What Do Reading IELTS Tests Consist Of?

With our upcoming IELTS Masterclass Preparation Workshop, we thought we would reblog a few of our best IELTS blogs from the past, here is a lovely one from 2016.

A Fork in the Road

Before beginning your IELTS exam preparation, it is important to understand that there are two different types of IELTS test and each has a different type of IELTS reading section. The first is the General IELTS and the second is the Academic IELTS. Both reading tests will give you 40 questions, 3 reading sections and 1 hour to complete the test (which means 20 minutes for each section).

Academic IELTS reading tests

Academic IELTS is the most popular of the two, it is typically taken by students who need an IELTS certificate to study at university, it is also sometimes used by learners who need it for employment purposes.The Academic IELTS reading test is characterized by being more heavy-going, it consists of 3 texts, which deal with issues which are recognisably appropriate for test takers entering undergraduate or postgraduate courses or seeking professional registration. What does that mean? The 3 texts will be on academic topics.

General IELTS reading tests

General IELTS is classically needed by students for the purposes of immigration. A classic example is the band 7 that test takers need in order to emigrate to Australia, with even quite a few native speakers taking the test for this purpose.
The General IELTS reading test is characteristically lighter and more accessible to students. Similar to the Academic reading it consists of 3 texts. However, the first 2:

  • Social survival (understanding pieces of everyday English reading e.g. advertising / timetables)
  • Workplace survival (understand pieces of English reading in a work context e.g. job descriptions / contracts)

are not as formidable as the Academic texts, they feature lighter vocabulary, and less text to read.
The third section, is the same as one of the Academic IELTS reading sections, it is an Academic text. Therefore, if you learn English on an IELTS preparation course, it will certainly help a learner preparing for the General test to do some Academic reading tests.


Therefore, we suggest choosing your English exam preparation material according to the test you intend to take, either General or Academic. Although very often IELTS reading practice tests will come with both types of test included.

Types of question

There are many different types of question that you may meet during your IELTS reading test, mentioned below are some of the more common types:Classic IELTS reading tasks:

Headings matching

  • Match the correct heading, from a list of possible titles, to the correct paragraph.

True, False, Not given / Yes, No, Not given

  • Classify a statement as either: True, False, Not given / Yes, No, Not given according to the text.

Summary completion

  • Choose the correct word(s) and or numbers from the text to fill the gaps in a summary. The summary could be of the whole text, or a paragraph within the text.

Multiple choice questions

  • Choose the correct answer to a question or ending to a sentence from a list of multiple choice possibilities.

Diagram tasks:

Table completion

  • Fill in the gaps in a table using the correct word(s) and or numbers from the text.

Flow chart completion

  • Fill in the gaps in a flow chart using the correct word(s) and or numbers from the text.

Diagram labelling

  • Label a diagram using the correct word(s) and or numbers from the text.

This is not an exhaustive list of question types, however these are the most frequently occurring. Many other question types are simply variations of those listed above.

Make sure that you read the question carefully, many students trip up in the test because they do not pay attention to the task they should be doing. Take the two questions below for example, what is the difference between them?

Example A:


Questions 1-9
Use NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each answer.


Example B:


Questions 10-15


Use NO MORE THAN ONE WORD and/or a NUMBER from the passage for each answer.


Clearly it can be seen that with example B, a student who wrote two words would fail the task. Always read the question carefully, they vary from task to task and exam to exam.

How it’s marked

The reading test is marked by humans, not a computer, and these markers must be certified examiners. They are regularly monitored by Cambridge to ensure that the IELTS standards are upheld.

The General reading test marks can be translated differently to the Academic reading test. Therefore, whatever English exam preparation material you use, make sure you convert your mark into a band score using the correct calculator. Band score calculators can be found very easily by simply Googling ‘band score calculator’ once you have finished a practice test and want to know what the mark you finish with means as a band score.

Good luck with your IELTS test!