Skip to main content
Skimming and scanning in IELTS reading

Skimming and scanning in IELTS reading

(19 votes)



One of the most common problems with the IELTS reading test is the time limit. You have 60 minutes to find 40 answers over three sections with a total of up to 3000 words. Two essential skills for getting a good IELTS result are skimming and scanning.


Skimming is when you very quickly look though a text looking for a general understanding of what it is about, how it is structured and how it is written. You are not looking for specific information, just an overview. A common time you may have used skimming skills is when you deciding to buy a newspaper or magazine – you quickly look through to see if there is anything in there you may be interested in reading closely.


Scanning is when you are looking for a specific piece of information in a text. This could be a name, a place, a date or any specific detail. A common time for scanning would be looking through a telephone directory, looking for a specific name.


So what are good strategies to help you skim and scan faster?

1. Reading the title / looking at any illustrations

This is a GOOD strategy. Not all IELTS reading texts have titles, but if there is one it can often be a good indicator of what the text is about. The same is true for illustrations, which can often give you a good idea of what at least part of the text is about.

2. Reading every word

This is a BAD strategy. The IELTS test does not give you time to read every word of the complete text, and trying to do so will often mean you do not finish all three sections. The only time you should reading every word is when you think you have found the an answer and want to read the surrounding sentences carefully. Otherwise, you should either be skimming the text for a general understanding or scanning for something in particular.

3. Reading the first and last sentence of each paragraph

This is a BAD strategy. The IELTS test has developed to test your English level and skills, and shortcuts like this simply do not work anymore. You will miss vital information or even be led astray by sentences designed deliberately to mislead you.

4. Underlining/circling names as you skim

This is a GOOD strategy. People, places and other kinds of names can often give you a good guide for where information is in the text, and can help you come back to a specific point much faster.

5. Concentrating on difficult vocabulary

This is a BAD strategy. It is very common to get stuck on a word or phrase when you don’t know the meaning, but this is wasting precious time when you should be moving on. It’s possible that you may lose a point because of a word you didn’t know, but it’s better to answer easier questions first and if you have time, go back to that word at the end.

In conclusion, the most common advice is to skim for general meaning first, scan for the location of the correct answer and then use close reading to decide what the correct answer is.

There are over 10 different types of questions on the reading test and all of them require a different strategy. Doing them all in the same way will waste a lot of time and will probably result in you getting a lower score than you deserve.

Instead of skimming and scanning without thinking about the question, you should have a strategy in place for each of the different question types.


Related IELTS tips


How to Do True False Not Given Type of Questions in IELTS Reading?

  True False Not Given questions are considered to be the trickiest

Reading Tips27,823

How to Do Summary Completion Type of Questions in IELTS Reading?

There are two types of questions of summary completion type; one with the

Reading Tips46,304

How to Find the Right Keywords in Reading Comprehension?

During scanning as well, you can mark keywords in the question as your tendency

Reading Tips85,735

Some short tips to do the IELTS reading effectively

1. SKIM the text, i.e. look for the GIST (main idea) of the text by scrutinising

Reading Tips33,389

How to use the "keyword technique" in IELTS Reading?

How IELTS Reading questions are made? The examiner who write the questions

Reading Tips42,707

Most popular IELTS tips


IELTS Reading Tips (Previewing & Skimming)

There are a few main skills that you will need in order to do well in the IELTS

Reading Tips81,116

How to solve the question type "Diagram/Flow Chart Completion" in IELTS Reading

Task description You are presented with a diagram/Flow Chart which shows some

Reading Tips54,272

What to do when retaking the IELTS test

Mental Preparation Stress can be your worst enemy in exams if you do not know

Reading Tips17,244

How to Do Yes No Not Given Questions in IELTS Reading?

Be Careful About Instructions     You should read the instructions

Reading Tips56,600

30 Words That Can Be Confusing Even To Native Speakers

The famous British journalist Harold Evans has written down a vocabulary

Reading Tips111,472