This is a quick lesson is an introduction to IELTS reading skills. The main idea is that reading is not just a test of your vocabulary but it tests HOW you read to and to pass that test it helps to learn to read in different ways.
The 3 skills of reading
For me there are 3 specific skills in IELTS reading and you need to be able to use all 3 of these skills.
close reading of the text: this is when you look at a sentence (or sometimes a paragraph) and try and understand what it means exactly so you can answer a question. You will do this for every question before you decide on the answer.
scanning: this is when you look for a particular word or phrase in the text. You do this before you start reading closely. All you are doing is trying to find where the answer in the text is, not what the answer is.
skimming: this is reading the whole text (or a large part of it) so you understand what the text is about generally. You do this for two reasons:
1. it helps you scan more efficiently: if you skim first you save yourself time as you know which part of text to look at first
2. it also helps you when you read the text closely. If you skim first, you are much more likely to “guess” the right answer between two different choices just because you understand the whole text.
How do I use the IELTS reading skills?
How it works will vary slightly from question to question. The general idea though is you
read the questions first to get a general idea of the text
skim the text for general meaning and to understand its structure
return to the questions – look for words in them
scan the text to see where the answer is
closely read the text and the question to decide what the answer is
So the general order is
Do I have to use all 3 skills?
Short answer: No. Different learners work in different ways. What works for me may not work for you. There are people who manage without skimming/reading the whole text. You’ll find different suggestions on how to do this here.
The more complex answer is that you probably want to use the skills in different ways for different types of question. As you get more advanced you’ll probably build different strategies for each type of question as they ask you to read in different ways.
Isn’t it a waste of time to read the whole text first?
No. I don’t believe skimming wastes any time at all – if you do it well. Think of it like this. If you don’t skim first, it is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture. It’s possible of course, just harder. If you do skim and understand the whole text generally, then you have the big picture of the jigsaw in your head: you are much more likely to make the right connections.
There are different ways to skim though. If you find it too hard to read the whole text first, then you may want to consider the first two approaches in this lesson on reading more quickly.
Are you sure? Can’t I just look at the questions and “find” the answer?
You can if it works! But
- If you skim the text first for general meaning, you are likely to find answers more quickly. If you don’t skim the text first, each answer may take you longer. You can waste time that way.
- Some question types (paragraph matching in particular) ask you to understand meanings of whole paragraphs and then you do need some skimming skills.
- While few questions ask you to understand the whole text. There will be times when you have 2 possible answers and you need to “guess”. Put simply, if you understand the whole text you will normally guess better.