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Should I read the questions before I read the text?

Candidates often ask this question. They know they don’t have much time in the IELTS reading and the texts are often difficult, and they want to make sure they are reading and answering the questions efficiently.

The problem is that different teachers will give different advice. Some will tell candidates to read all the questions first. Others will tell them to read the text through first. All of this advice leaves candidates feeling confused.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Reading the questions first Reading the text first
Advantages You don’t need to read parts of the text that you don’t understand. You only read the parts of the text which are relevant to the questions. You will have an idea of the organization of the text. This will help you know where the answers are likely to be.
Disadvantages Once you’ve looked at a question, you will have to look through the text to find out where the answers are. This means that you need to skim the text before you are able to answer the question. Most questions are in the same order as the text, but not paragraph matching questions. This may take you too long and, once you’ve looked at the questions, you will need to reread anyway. Most of the questions are in the order of the text so you don’t need a detailed knowledge of the organization. If the text is very difficult you may feel demotivated.
  • Set yourself a time limit to skim through the text first. Write notes or circle key words which show you how it is organized. Then look at the questions.
  • Answer the questions in order, but skip over questions that are difficult and come back to them later, if you have time.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with the question types. Find out which ones work best if you read them first, and which ones are easiest to answer if you’ve skimmed the text first.
  • Time yourself. What is the most efficient way for you?

How to prepare

When you do practice tests, find out what works for you on the different question types. Make sure that you are doing what you have found works for you and not what works for another candidate or even your teacher.

Important reminders about reading the questions

  • Make sure you answer the question that is on the paper and not what you think the question is asking.
  • When you are reading quickly, it is easy to miss important words or misread words. Words like ‘not’, ‘always’ and ‘never’ can completely change the meaning of a question.
  • You may find yourself choosing an answer because it contains the same key word as you have found in the text. When you’ve found the relevant section of a text, slow down. In the exam, you should focus on words and phrases which have similar meanings, rather than the exact same word.
  • Read the instructions, not just the questions. The instructions contain important information such as the maximum number of words you can give in a short answer question. Don’t rely on your memory of the instructions from the practice tests you’ve done. Double check!
Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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