IELTS Reading: How to Speed-Read

The IELTS Reading test is no place for slow readers. There are a number of problems that slow readers face:

  • Not finishing the texts
  • Panicking under the pressure of time constraints
  • Reading sections that are not important and will not help to answer the questions
  • No extra accuracy


Quick and accurate readers, on the other hand, hold many advantages:

  • Faster understanding of the text
  • Confidence in beating the clock
  • More time at the end to check your answers
  • A wider variety of texts to practice on before your test


There are two tricks to speed reading: eliminating subvocalisation and chunking. 

Subvocalization is the process of saying the words in your head as you read. For example, you can probably hear a ‘little voice’ in your head as you’re reading this now. That’s subvocalisation – the voice in your head as you read. If you can silence this voice, you can double, even triple, your reading speed. One good method for this is to focus on your breath as you read. This can silence the voice and increase your reading speed.

Chunking is the process of reading words in chunks, rather than individually. This is possible because of collocation, a word you will have seen before. Collocations are words that are commonly seen with one another. The human brain is able to see a group of words and process the meaning without having to decode each word individually.

Try to read the following paragraph as quickly as you can.

Read it as you normally would, subvocalising and reading every word individually. Set a timer and record how many seconds it takes you to read the whole paragraph.

Although the history of Manchester stretches back to Roman times, when a small settlement
grew up around the Roman fort known as Mamuciam, it was not until the later years of the
eighteenth century that it became a population centre of any great magnitude. Recrods
indicate the population grew from 10,000 to approaching 80,000 in just a few decades,
increasing to around 150,000 by the Industrial Revolution, which saw its transformation into
the country’s and the world’s leading industrial metropolis. The engine for this change was
cotton, imported via the port of Liverpool.

STOP! How long did that take you? Write down your time.

Now, try to read the following paragraph as quickly as you can.

This time, focus on the ‘chunks’ or groups of words between the ‘/’ marks instead of each word individually. Again, set your time and stop it as soon as you have finished reading.

One useful technique / to increase your reading speed is this: / when you read a line of text, / which is typically 12 – 14 words, / don’t let your eyes rest on each word. / This is a very inefficient way of
reading. / Your brain should have no problem / coping with chunks of language, / four or five words at a time. / This means you will move your eyes / three times per line, not 14. / It does take practice, / but it is a skill you should develop / if you want to get a good result / in the IELTS test. This type of reading is / much easier when you know / collocations and phrases / because in essence you ‘chunk’ the text / into groups of words that go together.

STOP! How long did that take you? Any quicker? If not, you should practise reading more regularly. Immerse yourself in English books, newspaper and textbooks so that you begin to naturally pick up on collocations.

And, really, if you want to ace the Reading exam, you should be reading at least a few pages of English text a day anyway!

Just remember: chunking and eliminating subvocalisation and you should be able to shave off a precious few minutes on your Reading test.