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Using Skimming and Scanning to Improve your IELTS Reading Skills

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The IELTS Reading test isn't just about understanding content; it's about efficiently navigating through passages to find specific information within a limited timeframe. Two key strategies—skimming and scanning—serve as invaluable tools for achieving success in this section of the exam.

Read more: What does it take to get a Band 7+ score in the IELTS exam?

In this post, we delve into the art of skimming and scanning, exploring how these techniques can significantly enhance your performance in the IELTS Reading test. From deciphering main ideas swiftly to locating specific details accurately, mastering these strategies empowers you to approach the test with confidence.


Skimming means quickly going through a passage to get a general idea of its content without focusing on every detail. Here's how to use skimming effectively:

Read the Title and Subheadings: They provide an overview of the main topics covered in the passage.

First and Last Paragraphs: Read the first and last paragraphs carefully. They often contain the main idea and concluding remarks.

Topic Sentences: Look for topic sentences in each paragraph. These sentences usually summarize the main point of the paragraph.

Mark Keywords and Phrases: Identify and underline or circle keywords or phrases that stand out, as they often indicate the main concepts or ideas.

Visual Aids: Pay attention to any charts, graphs, or illustrations, as they can provide a quick understanding of the information presented.

My recommended method for skimming the text is to carefully read the first paragraph in full, then to read the first sentence of each body paragraph before reading the entire final paragraph. The introduction paragraph will contain the thesis sentence, which should tell you the main idea and topic of the essay, and the conclusion paragraph will generally give you a summary of the main ideas of the text. 

By reading the first sentence of each body paragraph (typically the topic sentence), you can get a general idea of the main points that the text is making, as well as be able to identify where key information might be contained.


Scanning involves quickly searching for specific information within a passage without reading every word. Here's how to utilize scanning effectively:

Focus on Headings, Subheadings, and Keywords: Scan the passage for headings, subheadings, and the keywords you've identified. Skim through sentences around these areas for relevant information.

Use Context Clues: If you can't find the exact word or phrase from the question, look for synonyms or paraphrased versions within the text. Try to remember what each body paragraph's topic sentence was about, as this can help you quickly identify where to find specific information in the text.

Be Time-Efficient: Remember, scanning is about finding specific information quickly. Avoid getting bogged down in reading entire paragraphs unless necessary. One of the biggest mistakes I often see in students who are preparing for the IELTS is that they spend way too much time on one reading. It's almost impossibly to fully read and comprehend the entire essay in the time provided.

Practice is Key: Start practicing skimming and scanning techniques with various texts and articles.

Time yourself to simulate test conditions, gradually improving speed and accuracy.

Review your practice sessions to identify areas for improvement and refine your strategies.

In the IELTS Reading Test:

Skimming is particularly useful for quickly understanding the overall theme and structure of a passage.

Scanning helps in swiftly locating specific information needed to answer questions within the given time frame.

By mastering skimming and scanning techniques, you'll efficiently navigate through passages in the IELTS Reading test, enabling you to locate key information and answer questions accurately within the allotted time. Regular practice and familiarity with these strategies are essential for success.

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