IELTS Reading Band Descriptors: How to Improve Your IELTS Reading Score

If you’re wondering how to improve your IELTS Reading score, then you’re in the right place! In this post, we’ll take a look at how to get a good score in IELTS Reading (or how to give your existing band scores a boost). As you work on your IELTS Reading section, keep in mind that moving up a full band score may require significant improvements to your English skills. If you feel you understand the test well and your strategies are sound, it may be that you have to put in the time and effort to improve your English, rather than working primarily on test-taking strategies.

Improving your band scores for each section of the IELTS is the only way to boost your overall IELTS score, which is an average of your four sectional scores, so you’re off to a good start by working on your reading. Luckily, we can learn a lot from the IELTS reading rubric and IELTS reading band descriptors provided by the IELTS test makers.

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IELTS Reading Band Descriptors

IELTS Reading is scored in bands from 1-9, and includes half bands (for example, 4.5 and 5.5). There are 40 questions overall on IELTS Reading, meaning that if you want to move up to the next full band, this means that you’ll have to answer up to 6 more questions correctly. This can seem daunting, particularly if you have just taken the test and expected to score in a higher band. However, a lot happens during the IELTS exam, and understanding how you performed can help you reach a higher band the next time.

What does this look like? Here’s an overview of the IELTS band scores, straight from the official test-maker.

Band scoreSkill LevelDescription
Band 9Expert userYou have a full operational command of the language. Your use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and you show complete understanding
Band 8Very good userYou have a fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. You may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. You handle complex detailed argumentation well.
Band 7Good userYou have an operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. Generally you handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
Band 6Competent userGenerally you have an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. You can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.
Band 5Modest userYou have a partial command of the language, and cope with overall meaning in most situations, although you are likely to make many mistakes. You should be able to handle basic communications in your own field.
Band 4Limited userYour basic competence is limited to familiar situations. You frequently show problems in understanding and expression. You are not able to use complex language.
Band 3Extremely limited userYou convey and understand only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.
Band 2Intermittent userYou have great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
Band 1Non-userYou have no ability to use the language except a few isolated words
Band 0Did not attempt the testYou did not answer the questions.

Consider what happened during the exam that may have had nothing to do with your preparation, English skills, or approach. Is there something you can improve upon among these factors that could give you a boost next time?

  • Did you just have a bad day?
  • Was your stress level too high?
  • Was there a particular reading passage that caused you significant problems?

Once you know what caused your lower-than-desired IELTS band score, you can start to find strategies to raise it.

(If you aren’t sure what your current IELTS Reading level is, take a look at IELTS Scores, How to Estimate Your IELTS Score, and What Is a Good IELTS Score? for IELTS Reading band descriptors.)

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Get a higher IELTS score? Start your online IELTS prep today with Magoosh.

How to Get a Good Score in IELTS Reading

After analyzing your performance on test day, it’s time to get started and find the best ways to raise your score!

Was timing an issue for you during IELTS Reading? Not having enough time to read and answer questions is the #1 problem students report to me about the Reading paper. And actually, traditional reading patterns don’t work very well on the IELTS. Reading the passage from beginning to end before answering questions does not work for most people. One would have to be a very fast reader to approach the test this way and get a high band score!

IELTS Reading Techniques

So what can you do to get faster? Learning strategies that are specific to IELTS Reading is key. It is essential to master these skills through repeated practice. Importantly, it’s essential to master skimming and scanning. When you skim, you strategically read different parts of the text to get the gist of the passage. Scanning, on the other hand, involves strategically looking for key words. The following method helps many students succeed, but takes some time to master!

1. Spend about 3-4 minutes carefully skimming the text.

  • Read the first sentence(s) of each paragraph.
  • Skim the remainder of the paragraph, underlining or highlighting key words as you go. What key words should you focus on? Look for the names of people, dates, concepts, terminology, and/or steps in a process.
  • Overall, try to get the gist of the passage as you skim.
  • Try to label each paragraph (2-3 words only), identifying the main topic it contains. This helps you to locate that paragraph quickly when you answer questions. It is also a good mental exercise because finding enough information to apply a basic label to a paragraph shows that you are skimming purposefully and effectively.

2. After scanning, answer questions by scanning. This is challenging. It can be very time consuming to scan for answers in a text of more than 800 words (that you haven’t read carefully).

The solution: Don’t answer questions in order. In each question set, some answers will be easier to find in the passage than others:

  • As you look over the questions, you might remember where a topic is discussed in the passage. Start with that question!
  • Capitalized names, dates, numbers, etc. stand out among other text when you scan. That information might be easier to find than other information.
  • When you skimmed the text, perhaps you found that the text (or a part of the text) was organized in some kind of sequence (chronological, steps in a process, etc). This can be a critical clue about where to search for an answer.
  • One of the major benefits of scanning for answers by starting with the easiest (to find) answers in the text is that it is very likely that you will find answers to other questions in the process of searching for these easy-to-find answers.

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Reading Vocabulary

Veteran IELTS test-takers may have noticed that IELTS Reading rewards a large vocabulary. You can benefit from this knowledge by learning 10-15 new words every day and keeping a vocabulary journal. In fact, Magoosh can help you with mastering these words; check out our IELTS vocabulary flashcards!

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Question Types

IELTS Reading questions also become a lot easier once you are familiar with the question types that appear most often on the exam. How can you do this?

First of all, become familiar with each question type with our free guide to IELTS Reading Question Types. If you subscribe to Magoosh; we have detailed lessons that cover strategies for each question type, and guided sample questions (within the lessons) that show how to apply the strategies discussed.

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English Reading for IELTS Reading Mastery

Finally, if the test format itself is not the challenge, improving your English skills by building reading into your daily schedule is a fantastic way to boost your IELTS Reading band score over time.

You don’t need to read for hours and hours each day to improve reading comprehension. Students who spend 15-30 minutes reading IELTS-like material each day will see improvements over time. This isn’t a shortcut, but it is the best way to improve reading comprehension over time. Here is a list of appropriate reading resources:

Reading Resources List

  • New Scientist: New Scientist is an international science magazine from UK. Some New Scientist articles, such as one called Flawed Beauty: the Problem with Toughened Glass, can be found in Cambridge IELTS books and past IELTS exams.
  • Scientific American and American Scientist: Scientific American and American Scientist are two popular American science magazines. They also include health and education articles, which are very similar to IELTS Academic Reading passages. What is more, Scientific American offers hundreds of 60-second science podcasts, which are great for IELTS listening practice!
  • BBC News: Get the latest news from different parts of the world in English. There are many kinds of reading materials on BBC News that work great for IELTS prep.
  • The Economist: The Economist is another common source for IELTS reading passages. Many articles from past exams were taken from this magazine.
  • National Geographic: National Geographic contains articles about geography, animals, culture, the environment, travel and adventure, which are common topics for both the Academic and General Training Reading exams.
  • History Extra and History Net: History Extra and History Net are two great history magazine websites with podcasts, articles and reviews on a variety of events.
  • Choose articles from any of these major newspapers:

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Common IELTS Reading Mistakes to Avoid

In this video, Magoosh’s IELTS expert Eliot explains how to avoid the top five mistakes he commonly sees students making on the IELTS Reading section. With these tips under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to a great IELTS Reading score!

How to Get a Good Score in IELTS Reading: Final Review

While moving up one or more IELTS Reading bands doesn’t often happen overnight, it is absolutely possible! It will take time and commitment; it will also take a series of great resources (such as you’ll find at Magoosh!). But at the end of the day, don’t get discouraged! As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.

For a quick review, bookmark this page and scroll down to these tips to remind you of exactly how to keep your practice at its most effective!

Here’s how to get a good score in IELTS Reading…

  1. Practice skimming and scanning techniques that will help you move more quickly through the test
  2. Improve your English vocabulary
  3. Become familiar with IELTS reading question types
  4. Understand the Reading band descriptors
  5. Practice reading IELTS-level material
  6. Study online with Magoosh online prep!

Now that you know how to get a good score in IELTS Reading, perhaps you’re interested in how to improve your score for the other sections of the IELTS. See our accompanying posts on the band descriptors for Listening, Speaking, and Writing.

By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

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