IELTS reading skimming and scanning

What is Skimming and Scanning in the IELTS Reading Test?

This article answers what is Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading? But before we go there, I want you to read the text in the image below. The one with the heading – “Not everyone can read this”.The most important strategy in the IELTS Reading section is to know what the IELTS test expects from you. Once you know this, you get an insight into improving your IELTS Reading band score.

Today, we are going to learn Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading

IELTS skimming and scanning technique - try and read what's written here.
Skimming and Scanning in IELTS Reading Test

Did you notice something in the image above?

The spellings are all jumbled up, not a single spelling is correct.

Then, how were you able to read it?

My dear friend, our mind is much powerful than you think! It does not require you to know the correct spelling, all it needs is the correct order of the first and last letter. Let’s look at the first sentence,

fi yuo cna raed tihs,....

You probably read this as, If you can read this,…

I am sure, you didn’t expect your mind to be that good. When you were reading through the image above, you would have felt smart. If you haven’t read the text in the image, I suggest you do it, right now. There is no point reading ahead if you have not read the text in the image above.

Now, let me tell you a secret

You just used the art of Skimming through the passage. One of the most important tools to reach a band 8 in the IELTS reading section. You did not read through the letters, instead, you skimmed through it.

Let’s take another example, consider there is a boat on one side of the river and it wants to cross the river. What does it do, float over the water or dive into the river bed? I am sure you know this! The boat floats over the water and crosses the river, easily. Imagine, if it went down and tried to cross the river from under the water. Surely, it becomes much more difficult to cross the river.

Similarly, in the reading test, we need not understand the complete meaning of the passage, rather skim through it.

a great tip to improve your IELTS reading Skimming and Scanning
IELTS reading Skimming and Scanning

A quick reading technique is what you learnt, also known as Skimming in the IELTS test.

Now, what is Scanning in the IELTS Reading Test?


Scanning is the ability to figure out what is important, and what is not. Certainly, you need to know what the question is asking before you skim through it.

Firstly, you need to figure out the keywords in a question. You do this by skimming through the questions. Once the questions are understood, you should look for these keywords or its synonyms, in the passage.

The IELTS Reading Test forces you to use skimming and scanning techniques, in both the reading passage and the questions. Specifically, so that you ‘mark the correct keywords’ and ‘understand the context of the question.’


To sum it up, you have to ‘skim through the text’ to find the exact location of this context. Then ‘scan for the keyword’ to identify the related words or phrases. It is this technique that leads you to the right answers.

So, why do you go wrong with skimming and scanning in the IELTS Reading Test?

Again, many of you might say that you already know this and you have been doing this in the test. Even then, you find it difficult to reach your desired band score. Let’s figure out where you go wrong in applying these techniques.

Most IELTS test-takers complain that this strategy of skimming and scanning the passage is quite hard. Usually, most students complain about the lack of understanding of the main idea while skimming.

Thus, they go back to old school methods of reading a sentence two or three times, so that the main idea is clear. Most of us fail to understand that Skimming and Scanning are the two key skills that an IELTS reading test is all about. Consequently, wasting our time reading through the whole passage. This approach is incorrect.

Apparently, all of us learnt this style of reading during our school days. We used to read chapters from our text books and mark or highlight the important points. Sometimes, the text book would be completely highlighted. Back then, questions were mostly from within the paragraphs and used to be more direct. I’m sure you would have secured a good rank in your school years. But, believe me, this very technique will make you loose band scores in the IELTS test.

Interestingly, there are two factors which clearly define this issue. These which do not allow you to skim or scan properly. Remember, this is mainly due to the already learnt reading techniques adopted from our school or college days.

These two factors are:

  1. Incorrect Keywords – Identifying ‘important terms’ or content words, as you read the IELTS reading passage. Simply put, if the keywords are wrong then you are NOT Scanning the text properly.
  2. Wrong Assumptions – Often, we might already know a few things about the topic discussed in the reading text. As we read, we tend to go back to our own knowledge about the subject and start assuming things. Surprisingly, these assumptions might not be related to the questions. Thus, do NOT assume anything about the reading passage. Remember, you get marks for the right answers, and not merely for your understanding of the passage.

For the moment, unlearn all old techniques from your school days and train your mind to skim and scan. For as long as you do not do that, you are distant from your desired IELTS Band Score.

Angel Joseph,

Angels School of Knowledge – A language school specialising in the IELTS and PTE-Academic test. The institute is located in Kerala, India; popularly known as God’s own country.


Angel - an IELTS trainer in Kochi
Angel Joseph

Angel Joseph is an experienced IELTS Trainer from Cochin in Kerala, India. She is a Cambridge certified agent and holds a Masters in International Business from LSBU University, London. In addition, she is a TESOL Canada certified trainer of English as a Second Language for non-native users. Her schooling was based in Apeejay School, Faridabad and under-graduate years in the enthralling Delhi University Campus. Previously, she had worked with Hewlett-Packard in London, Monster Inc. in Kochi, Aakash Education Services in Kochi, with more than 10 years of experience in the Training and Education domain. She loves to engage with her students and always has a trick up her sleeve, to help you with your IELTS preparation. As a result, she is a seasoned teacher of English and is overly capable of getting rid of your fear of speaking and interacting in English. You may contact Angel on her Official email id.

Justus - IELTS writing expert
Justus Joseph

Justus is a certified Avionics Engineer and also a graduate in English honours. He has worked in the Aviation, Education and Training sectors with reputed organisations such as Jet Airways, T.I.M.E. and Sutherland. His schooling is from the renowned Don Bosco School in New Delhi and his engineering years spanned at the metropolitan at School Of Aeronautics, Delhi. He is a very knowledgeable and structured trainer, with more than 10 years of experience in the training domain. His vast experience makes him an expert in English writing skill, especially for IELTS Academic students. In addition, he is also a self-learned Cloud Solutions Architect and an avid photographer. He loves to travel; a wanderlust indeed, and tries to impresses everyone with his photography skills. To conclude, it seems anything is possible for him and shares a deeper context to finding success in life. You may contact Justus on his Official email id.

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