The IELTS reading test requires candidates to read several passages and then answer forty questions of different types. This can be quite difficult to do, but the hardest part is the time limit. For this section of the exam, you have only one hour to read everything and answer all the questions.
In order to get a good IELTS score for this section, you must be able to read quickly but effectively, finding answers without wasting time. To do that, you need to employ a technique that is called “skimming and scanning.”
What are Skimming and Scanning?
If you have studied IELTS before, you have probably heard your teachers talking about skimming and scanning. It is a tried-and-true method of reading quickly and effectively and so it is widely recommended as the best method for acing the IELTS reading test.
Put simply, skimming and scanning means searching the text for certain words through two different processes:
- First of all, skim the text. This means read very quickly, overlooking most data but just picking out key ideas. This will help you to glean the overall meaning – the gist – of the passage. It will also help you to remember where certain important ideas are located within the text.
- After that, scan the text. This means look at the questions, pick out useful words or synonyms, and then go back to quickly look through the passage to find what you need.
When used together, these are really effective methods for finding answers within a short period of time.
How to Use Skimming and Scanning
Now that you know what these words mean, it is worth looking at how to use them effectively to boost your IELTS score. Doing this takes practice, and you will become better at it over time as you grow accustomed to the English language.
Firstly, let’s start with a big piece of text. Let’s say there are 1,000 words, which is typical for an IELTS reading passage. You might be tempted to read slowly through these words to find out every meaning, but this is not realistic in the IELTS reading test. Instead, you should skim the passage to get the gist of it.
By skimming, I mean you should read very quickly. Pay particular attention to:
- Introductory sentences
- Repeated words
- Concluding sentences
By looking quickly through these, you will get a good idea of what the text is about. For example, you might see a picture of an elephant, the word “poacher,” and the title might feature the word “conservation.” This would tell you loosely that the article is about the hunting of elephants.
Next, you would look at the questions. You should read these carefully because you need to understand exactly what you are seeking. Pay attention to question words (who, what, where, when, why, how) and think about synonyms. It might, for example, ask you about “a region where elephants are not endangered.”
Scanning means thinking of other words that mean “region” and “not endangered” and then going back through the text to find that part. If you have already skimmed the text, you might remember that it was mentioned in the second half. You would then scan the text with your eyes until you find those words or synonyms of them:
- One area where elephants thrive is Kruger National Park.
In this case, “area” is a synonym of “region” and “thrive” means “not endangered.” This would tell you that the answer is “Kruger National Park.”
Is Skimming and Scanning the Only Skill?
Skimming and scanning are very important for IELTS reading, but they are really just important for quickly finding the location of an answer. They will not necessarily help you to pick the right answer from the wrong one.
When it comes to actually choosing the right answer, you will usually need to employ a third skill that is called “close reading.” As the name implies, this means reading closely for details. Basically, it is the final part of the reading process.
In the above answer, it was relatively easy to determine that “Kruger National Park” was correct, but in the real IELTS reading test, it will not be so easy. You often need to pick apart the grammar and vocabulary of a sentence in order to find the right answer. Sometimes you need to infer the answer from subtle clues.
Close reading is really important because sometimes it will seem possible that there are two possible answers. This is often the case in TRUE/ FALSE/ NOT GIVEN questions. Here, you might know that the answer is not TRUE but maybe it is hard to tell whether it is FALSE or NOT GIVEN. In such cases, you need to look very closely at the text and pick apart the meaning of the sentence to determine the right answer.
If the text said that “78 elephants were killed in autumn of 2019” and the question asked whether it was TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN that “78 elephants were killed in 2019,” you would have to say NOT GIVEN because we do not know the full total. Whilst it is unlikely that no more elephants were killed throughout the rest of the year, we cannot say for sure. In situations like this, skimming and scanning would lead you to the right answer, but you would not be able to give it without reading closely.
How to Practice Effectively
Any language skill requires practice, and the more time and effort you invest, the greater the rewards will be. It is no different with skimming and scanning. I strongly recommend that you spend a set amount of time each day to read passages in English. These should vary in type and content, just like IELTS materials do. That means read news articles, research papers, blog posts, sports reports, and more.
When you read, keep in mind the advice about skimming and scanning. First of all, read very quickly and figure out the overall meaning. Consciously ask yourself whether you know what it really meant. Try to give a short summary in your head so that you know whether or not you got the main idea. After that, practice scanning. This can be hard without questions, so you have two choices: 1) Write your own questions, or 2) Scan for names, numbers, places, and so on. This is actually quite helpful because these are often the sorts of things you need to find in IELTS reading. Scan for numbers and then see if you can quickly work out what those mean. A third approach, if you are reading a news article, is to find a picture and see what is in it. Then, read the article quickly to find the thing that was mentioned. This will boost your reading speed.
Conclusion – How to Succeed in IELTS Reading
Ultimately, IELTS reading is about balancing speed and accuracy. You need to read several thousand words and answer lots of questions, so you cannot take it word by word and search meticulously for each answer. Instead, you need to use skimming and scanning to locate the correct area of the text, then employ close reading to get the exact right answer. By doing these three things, you will give yourself a great chance of a good IELTS score.