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a. Skimming

What skills will be tested?

The reading paper will test a number of different skills, including:

  • Completing a diagram, table or summary
  • Tell the difference between main ideas and supporting details
  • Find specific information
  • Identify the writer’s opinion
  • Follows key arguments
  • Identify the writer’s purpose

Let us divide IELTS reading skills and tips into various pages for the ease of your understanding. Depending upon the question type, you may need to skim, scan or read intensively.

Skill 1: Skimming

Skimming is a reading technique meant to look for main or general ideas in a text, without going into detailed and exhaustive reading. In skimming, a reader reads only important information, but not everything. This technique is very popular with non-fiction materials, newspapers, and long novels, especially when you have time constraints.

Why do you skim in the IELTS Reading Test?

ielts reading skills and tips

For the IELTS Reading test, you need to skim a reading passage first to get an overview of a paragraph. Questions like matching headings, matching information from the paragraphs… is always faster when skimming.

Also, once you have skimmed and identified the main idea of each paragraph, you will find it much easier to scan (to locate specific information) and read intensively for detail (to understand detail to answer the question).

How do you skim?

animated eyes skimming a pageTo skim, let your eyes move quickly across and down each paragraph of the passage. To do this, you might use a pencil to guide you. And yeah, don’t forget to underline important words.

To skim effectively, you first need to understand the basic structure of a paragraph, as this will give you a better idea of how to locate the main idea and supporting details in a paragraph.

Paragraph Structure= main idea + supporting details

Each paragraph contains one main idea which is introduced in the topic sentence of the paragaph, but not always the first sentence of the paragraph. The other sentences in the paragraph are called supporting sentences because they support the main idea by adding information or by giving evidence or examples to explain the main idea.

Therefore, while you are skimming, it is important to read the topic sentence of each paragraph slowly. You can then speed up when you skim the rest of the paragraph to note the supporting details and/or examples.

Let’s analyze the following paragraph from a passage Culture and Learning. I have underlined some words and phrases to help you recognize key ideas.

Paragraph A(1) Every culture has its own distinctive conventions regarding what should be learned and how learning should take place. (2)These conventions form a largely unquestioned base to the culture’s systems of primary, secondary and tertiary education. (3) In one culture, students may be encouraged to collaborate with their fellow students, while in another culture this activity may be prohibited. (4) In some societies, students are discouraged from asking questions, while in others they may be required to do so as part of their formal assessment. (5) In some countries, a university lecturer provides students with all the information that they are required to learn; in others, students are required to collect data independently.Structure(1) Topic sentence: The words ‘culture‘ and ‘learning‘ relate to the topic of the passage. The words ‘own distinctive conventions‘ give information about the topic. From the topic sentence, we form the idea that the paragraph is about ‘how each culture has its own conventions about learning.’ 
(2) Supporting idea:
 states why cultures have these conventions about learning. 
(3) Example 1.
 Compares cultures in regard to the convention of student collaboration. 
(4) Example 2.
 Compares cultures in regard to the convention of asking questions. 
(5) Example 3.
 Compares cultures in regard to the convention of providing information to students.

What is the process of skimming?

Step 1:
Read the first sentence or find the topic sentence of the paragraph and underline key words
Step 2:
Form an idea of what the main idea of the paragraph is, based on the key words of the topic sentence. 
Step 3:
Skim the rest of the paragraph. As you are skimming, underline key words that are related to the main idea from the topic sentence. Circle other important information such as people, places, time expressions or numbers. This type of information is often an answer to a question, and circling it makes it easier to locate. 
Step 4:
Write down a few words next to each paragraph to help you remember what the main idea of the paragraph is. 

Demonstrating the skimming process


Let’s look at Mr Yuvraj’s approach of skimming process using the four-step skimming process below.

Step 1: Read the first sentence or find the topic sentence of the paragraph and underline key words.
Paragraph A Comics, or something very like them, have been used for instruction for thousands of years. Sequential or serial art – a series of pictures which tell a story – has a history almost as long as that of mankind itself. Before the invention of writing, drawing was the only way in which the story of a hunting success, or any other story, could be recorded. 
The most important words to underline are the words that give information of what the paragraph is about – e.g.,e.g., ‘instruction’, ‘for thousands of years’. You can underline the topic words(‘comic’‘used’) but you don’t need to.
Step 2: Form an idea of what the main idea of the paragraph is, based on the key words of the topic sentence. The main idea of Paragraph A could be how comics have been used for instruction in education for thousands of years. To form an idea of the main idea of the paragraph, you need to ask yourself whowhatwhywhenwhere, or how questions related to the key words in the topic sentence.

Look at how I did this.instructions:I thought of the question word how. e.g., ‘How comics were used for instruction in education’.for thousands of years:I thought of the question word how long e.g., ‘How long comics have been used in education’.That is what made me think that the main idea of Paragraph A could be how comics have been used for instruction in education for thousands of years.
Step 3: Skim the rest of the paragraph. As you are skimming, underline key words that are related to the main idea from the topic sentence. Circle other important information such as people, places, time expressions or numbers. This type of information is often an answer to a question, and circling it makes it easier to locate. The words you underline should support the main idea or give examples of how comics have been used for instruction. So, you can see that I found the following examples of how comics (or serial art) were used for instruction:‘drawing’ – ‘story of a hunting success’‘cave paintings’ – ‘simple stories’,‘paintings’ – ‘aid to storytelling’. I also circled the following:time expression:Before the invention of writingplace:‘Lascaux’‘France’Note that you do not have to underline all these words, but whatever you underline should give you an idea of the main supporting points or examples. The most important thing to remember is to read actively.
Step 4: Write down a few words next to each paragraph to help you remember what the main idea of the paragraph is. Write words next to or above the paragraph that will help you to remember the important ideas in the paragraph. There are no right or wrong answers here. You can see that I wrote:thousands of years, instruction ???The words you write next to the paragraph could be:question words (how long? what … used for?).words from the passage (instruction, thousands of years)part of a sentence (comics used for instruction for thousands of years).