Skimming and scanning skills for IELTS

Skimming and scanning skills for IELTSSkimming and scanning skills for IELTS are essential in order to get a good result. With only 60 minutes to answer 40 questions, you need to be able to locate the correct answer quickly – you don’t have time to read in a relaxed, leisurely way. Using a combination of skimming and scanning will help you find the right answer, but like any skill, it takes time and practice in order to improve.

So what are skimming and scanning skills for IELTS?

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Skimming: this means to look quickly at a text to get a general idea of what it’s about and how it is structured. Skimming can be a difficult skill to master because most people try to say the words to themselves as they read. This will slow down your reading speed to only as fast as you can speak. In order to skim effectively, you need to practice not saying every word, but to keep moving your eyes down the text and not get sidetracked with details. You should try to skim in blocks, not individual words. For example, in this sentence, you should skim by glancing only three times. Here, here and here. Your aim is to notice any repetition of words or ideas and to get a general feeling for what the text is about. When you first start practicing, you may find that you skim and have very little idea what it was really about.

Scanning: this means to look quickly thorough a text for a specific piece of information. Like skimming, when you are scanning it is important that you do not look at each word individually or start ‘saying’ the words you are looking at. This can mean you lose focus on what you are actually scanning for. One way to make sure that you remain focused is by repeating the word or phrase you are looking for as you move your eyes down the text. Of course, you will need to consider how the information could be rephrased, but repeating the keyword can help you locate similar words or phrases.

Here are some situations where you have probably already used skimming and scanning skills:

  • looking for an email address or phone number on a website (scanning)
  • deciding if you want to read a news article or a book (skimming)
  • looking for someone’s name in a list (scanning)
  • Looking at movie descriptions on Netflix to find one you might want to watch (skimming)
  • Finding the movie on Netflix that you watched last night (scanning)


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