Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading
Reading
Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading

The IELTS Reading Test is only 60 minutes long with 40 questions to answer from multiple texts, so reading and finding answers quickly is essential. Check out this page on our website for a summary of the test format for Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. Let's look at some ways you can do that.    Listening Practice: Listen to Emma read skimming and scanning in IELTS Reading   Skimming and Scanning Have you ever wondered what skimming and scanning actually means? Teachers and textbooks often use these words, but sometimes learners are left wondering what they mean and how they can learn these mysterious skills. Today, I’m going to explain these important reading skills so that you can relax and get on with using them.  Think for a moment about how you read a piece of text in your own language. Do you slowly read each individual word and think about what it means? Probably not. Instead you read through it quickly, getting meaning from keywords to see what it’s about, or if you’re trying to find specific information you look for the particular words. What you are doing is skimming and scanning, just like in the IELTS Reading test. So, this is not a new skill to learn, just old skills you need to apply to this new situation. In the IELTS Reading test there is limited time. You must answer 40 questions on 3 texts in only 1 hour. Skimming and scanning are two techniques to help you speed up your reading, so if you practice these skills before the test you should see your scores improving. Put simply… Skimming is reading quickly to find the general overview of the passage. Scanning is reading quickly to find specific details within the passage.  Skimming tends to happen before you read the questions, where you focus on the overall message, while you can use scanning to locate relevant parts of a text when answering a question. Skimming When you are skimming a reading passage, always read the major parts such as the titles and headings carefully. This will provide the main idea of entire readings, sections, or paragraphs of reading passages. When you skim a text, you read the first and/or last sentence of a paragraph, this usually provides enough information to get a general overview of a paragraph. This will help you to quickly answer questions such as heading match questions and title match. You use skimming when you are: pre-reading the text for the overall meaning. quickly checking that you have located the correct part of a text once you have scanned for a keyword or idea when you are answering questions. Scanning Scanning is all about keywords; it helps you find specific details. Vocabulary such as proper nouns, dates, numbers, and times is what you are looking for when scanning text. So, when scanning a reading passage, you need to know what the keywords are in the question in order to find the keywords in the passage. Don’t forget that IELTS loves a paraphrase so chances are you will not find exactly the same word or phrases from the question. You need to think about what other words might appear in the text.  I find that following my finger or pencil while I scan a text helps me to stay focussed and not get distracted. We are all different though, so have a go and see if you find it easier with or without your finger!  So, you need to look at the questions to find out what information you are looking for, and then you can scan the text to identify where the key words are. Once you’ve found the right part of the text, read the sentences before and after to check that you have the right place to find the answer.  Circle or underline the keywords within the reading passage, that way you can go back and find it easily again and you can jump between the question and the text without wasting precious time. This allows you to check the question again and know that you have not made any mistakes. You might even put the question number in the margin.  Download this activity sheet and go through some questions with me.  Worksheet download I hope that this has helped you to understand what books and teachers mean when they talk about skimming and scanning a text. During the IELTS Reading test you probably won’t read the texts closely from start to finish, instead you might use a combination of skimming and scanning to get a general idea of the text and then jump in and out looking for the answers to the questions. This is OK, you are allowed to do this! Good luck!  Emma  

Emma Cosgrave

18 June, 2020

Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading

Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading

The IELTS Reading Test is only 60 minutes long with 40 questions to answer from multiple texts, so reading and finding answers quickly is essential. Check out this page on our website for a summary of the test format for Academic IELTS and General Training IELTS. Let's look at some ways you can do that.

 

Listening Icon Listening Practice: Listen to Emma read skimming and scanning in IELTS Reading

 


Skimming and Scanning
Have you ever wondered what skimming and scanning actually means? Teachers and textbooks often use these words, but sometimes learners are left wondering what they mean and how they can learn these mysterious skills. Today, I’m going to explain these important reading skills so that you can relax and get on with using them. 

Think for a moment about how you read a piece of text in your own language. Do you slowly read each individual word and think about what it means? Probably not. Instead you read through it quickly, getting meaning from keywords to see what it’s about, or if you’re trying to find specific information you look for the particular words. What you are doing is skimming and scanning, just like in the IELTS Reading test. So, this is not a new skill to learn, just old skills you need to apply to this new situation.

In the IELTS Reading test there is limited time. You must answer 40 questions on 3 texts in only 1 hour. Skimming and scanning are two techniques to help you speed up your reading, so if you practice these skills before the test you should see your scores improving.


Put simply…

  • Skimming is reading quickly to find the general overview of the passage.
  • Scanning is reading quickly to find specific details within the passage. 

Skimming tends to happen before you read the questions, where you focus on the overall message, while you can use scanning to locate relevant parts of a text when answering a question.

Skimming

When you are skimming a reading passage, always read the major parts such as the titles and headings carefully. This will provide the main idea of entire readings, sections, or paragraphs of reading passages. When you skim a text, you read the first and/or last sentence of a paragraph, this usually provides enough information to get a general overview of a paragraph. This will help you to quickly answer questions such as heading match questions and title match.

You use skimming when you are:

  1. pre-reading the text for the overall meaning.
  2. quickly checking that you have located the correct part of a text once you have scanned for a keyword or idea when you are answering questions.

Scanning

Scanning is all about keywords; it helps you find specific details. Vocabulary such as proper nouns, dates, numbers, and times is what you are looking for when scanning text. So, when scanning a reading passage, you need to know what the keywords are in the question in order to find the keywords in the passage. Don’t forget that IELTS loves a paraphrase so chances are you will not find exactly the same word or phrases from the question. You need to think about what other words might appear in the text. 

I find that following my finger or pencil while I scan a text helps me to stay focussed and not get distracted. We are all different though, so have a go and see if you find it easier with or without your finger! 

So, you need to look at the questions to find out what information you are looking for, and then you can scan the text to identify where the key words are. Once you’ve found the right part of the text, read the sentences before and after to check that you have the right place to find the answer. 

Circle or underline the keywords within the reading passage, that way you can go back and find it easily again and you can jump between the question and the text without wasting precious time. This allows you to check the question again and know that you have not made any mistakes. You might even put the question number in the margin. 


Download this activity sheet and go through some questions with me. 

Download Worksheet

Worksheet download


I hope that this has helped you to understand what books and teachers mean when they talk about skimming and scanning a text. During the IELTS Reading test you probably won’t read the texts closely from start to finish, instead you might use a combination of skimming and scanning to get a general idea of the text and then jump in and out looking for the answers to the questions. This is OK, you are allowed to do this!

Good luck! 
Emma
 

Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS - Recommended by Emma

Emma Cosgrave

Emma has been teaching IELTS for 20 years. She enjoys helping people to develop both their language skills and confidence.

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