What is Skimming or Scanning in IELTS Reading test?

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

Two words that describe Angel are – people’s person and kind-hearted. As the head Speaking coach at Asklearning, she backs up her sessions with awe-inspiring tricks to help you speak your mind. Being a mom, an entrepreneur and an orator, she teaches her students to overcome naysayers, always. Her sessions are lively and fun-filled, and her feedbacks are witty. You may contact Angel on her Official email id.

Justus - IELTS writing expert
Justus Joseph

Justus has talents that excite wonder and admiration. Founder of Ask Learning, he is a wiz-kid who later found his passion in writing. As a calm and diligent individual, most students find a guiding light under his leadership. He teaches crafty structures in IELTS writing and hand-holds you throughout the course. He pulls off amazing methods to cope with grammar troubles students usually have. You may contact Justus on his Official email id.

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