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IELTS reading skills – an introduction

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



closely read

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

  1. 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.
  2. Some question types (paragraph matching in particular) ask you to understand meanings of whole paragraphs and then you do need some skimming skills.
  3. 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.


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25 Responses to IELTS reading skills – an introduction

  1. Mary July 28, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Dear dominic

    Thanks as always great lesson.
    best regards

    • Anonymous March 9, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      Thanks for such a nice comment!
      Work hard.
      Best regards.

  2. Gaukhar July 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    yeaah thanks a loot 🙂 really helpful ^-^

  3. Alanna July 29, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Another useful post. So many people are unaware of the necessity of reading skills and strategies, such as the ones you’ve outlined here. Students tend to get too caught up in the idea of having to understand every word.

  4. koko September 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    you are the first one i found who was agree with me skimming first then go for scanning

  5. mohit April 21, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    you are doing great job .i salute your efforts. what i want to know .what should do we first scanning or skimming ? pls reply ….. i’m waiting ………

  6. mohit April 21, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    means scanning of words ,which we chose from the questions ……..

  7. nouf November 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    really thank you , about this skills , i agree with you and i want try it now ..

  8. nouf November 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    thank you dear , really i agree with you , and i want try it now ..

  9. osama April 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Dear Mr Dominic:
    I have never ever come across such a helpful well-organized website that study IELTS in depth. I really appreciate your great efforts. Keep up the good work!
    I have a question concerning skimming. According to you, what’s the time needed for skimming an IELTS-size reading essays?

  10. Falcon May 28, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I think going to questions first is more useful

  11. jaz June 17, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    This is a really good website to prepare for IELTS ….

    • jaz June 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

      Thanks a lot..

  12. Ting Yi Xian July 13, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    I want to improve my english!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Vinay August 8, 2014 at 11:13 am #


  14. Phan Thi Mai Hoa December 3, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    Thank you. It’s very helpful

  15. dede iskandar February 5, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks for the informations, its a good artickels for beginner like me

  16. dede February 5, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    Its useful for mr, thank you

  17. Gabriel February 23, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    What a helpful site!!!…. Thanks a lot.

  18. Kanwal March 24, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    Very nice tips, really. I also think skimming is a better idea.

  19. MO May 6, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    I got 5.5 in reading and i want to improve it. pls advise a good website to practise reading.



  20. Sarita bk November 18, 2015 at 1:32 am #

    Nice suggestion. Thanks a lot.

  21. Peter Kalu Uguru December 4, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    Very insightful and educative…. a springboard for every ardent follower.

  22. Sandrine March 9, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    Very useful tips! Thanks a lot for sharing. It helps me a lot to improve my English.

  23. Ms. Zin May 3, 2016 at 4:15 am #

    Thanks a lot, really helpful!!

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