Skimming and Scanning are Reading techniques and they are both very important in IELTS Reading: in IELTS Reading you are not going to have enough time to read the whole text word per word—don’t do that by the way—and this is where these techniques come in handy. Both techniques are similar, but the purpose we use them for is different. Let’s be clear on something: Just looking over an article here and there, is neither skimming nor scanning! This is just chaos, ok? You need to follow a certain procedure in order for these techniques to work out effectively.
When you encounter the Reading passage, you should use the skimming technique. With skimming, your main goal is to get the gist of the text; an overview of what is all about; an overview of its main ideas. So, how do we achieve that?
1.) Read the title! The title is the first information you get about the content of the text.
2.) Read the first paragraph very quickly. Do not try to understand it in depth, just read it rapidly. The first paragraph will give you more information about the content but most importantly, you will get connected with the text and the writer in terms of writing style, subject, opinions, expectations etc. Do not get overwhelmed—this happens instantly, almost subconsciously.
3.) Read and underline the first two lines of each paragraph: only the first two lines don’t keep on reading and don’t forget to underline! Usually, most writers tell you what the paragraph is going to be about from the first lines.
4.) Sub-headings and subtitles are important. They serve the same purpose as the main title: they tell you the main theme of each paragraph. So, if they exist, do not overlook them.
5.) Read quickly and underline the last two lines of each paragraph. This is not always necessary in my opinion but the reason I am suggesting this here is because in some tasks you are going to be asked: “What is the opinion of the writer/ a group of people/ etc. in this matter?” So, in these cases, the writer usually concludes the paragraph with his/ her opinion and this is where you will probably find opinions: in the last two lines. Yet, always justify your answers in order to be sure.
6.) Read very quickly the last paragraph. Again, just read it rapidly just to get an idea—do not dwell on it word per word. The conclusion will give you the overall taste and atmosphere, as I like to call it, of the text.
7.) This is not exactly a step on itself but this is something you should do throughout while you follow the previous steps. When you catch a glimpse of uncommon words that are possibly terminology, you should better underline these words or phrases, especially if they are capitalized. Some of them, if they fall into the category of terminology, cannot be paraphrased and they can be your guide while you try to locate the answer to a question. It will also be helpful to underline the following when you come across them while you are skimming:
– Numbers, dates, percentages
– Key-words like: “the best”, “the most”, “the worst”, “the majority”, “the minority”, etc.
– Places, nationalities, countries, continents
– Repetitions and synonyms used in the same paragraph.
………………………………………… ecosystem ………
……………………………………………………………………………… environment ……………………………………
This repetition is important. There will probably be a question on that. So, you should be careful not to get confused with possible paraphrasing.
These are the steps you should follow in order to skim through a Reading text effectively. The more you practice skimming that way, the faster you will become and you will have time to focus on the questions and your answers.
The technique of scanning should be used after you read the questions in the task. We use scanning when we know what we are looking for. We search for something specific. In order to understand scanning a little bit better, just remember what you do when you try to find a word in a dictionary: You already know which word you are looking for and you scan specific pages in the dictionary in order to find it alphabetically. This is what scanning is. You know what you search for and you try to find it; you try to locate it in the text.
So, chances are that after your skimming, you may know where to find some answers to the questions. You remember where—in which paragraph—to locate them. This can happen if you are good at skimming and concentrated enough. In this case—when you know where to locate the answer to a question—you go and read that paragraph carefully in order to actually find your answer and justify it. Then, you answer and that’s it!
But when you don’t know where to locate an answer to a question, you should scan the whole text and not just a paragraph until you find your answer:
1.) Never forget what you are looking for. Do not get carried away and read the whole thing.
2.) Keep in mind: “What is this that you are looking for?” A date? A number? An opinion? An issue of nationality? A scientific term or argument? The more specific you are, the better. In this way, your previous skimming and underlining will help you locate the answer even if you don’t know where it is. Again, just move your eyes through your underlining, do not read the whole thing.
3.) When you locate the answer—at least where it must be in your opinion, read the whole sentence or paragraph very carefully. Do not rush; always find proof in order to justify your answers. Reading is there to confuse you; it is not there to be easy—quite the opposite actually—so be careful. If you are not happy with the justification you found, keep searching until you are sure it is fine. Do not answer if you have doubts. (Unless of course you have no time, so in this case do not leave blanks and questions unanswered).
If you practice in this way, you won’t need to read the whole text again in Reading and hopefully the limited time of the Reading section won’t be an issue anymore for you.
In case you think that video is more enlightening, here you go: