Skimming and Scanning to Ace IELTS Reading Exam - 9 minutes read

It’s easier to be swayed by curiosity enough to lose track of time while reading through the three sections of the IELTS exam reading. It’s almost tempting to do it too, for the information is so categorically presented that the brain does not lend itself to not being immersed. However, to match up to the ticking clock, one must use techniques to draw out information without digging deep into the text.

The most effective techniques to speedily consume the text in order to answer the questions correctly are skimming and scanning.

How to Skim through IELTS Reading Text?

Skimming is the art of speed reading to know the theme and the information that can be found in a particular text. In other words, it is comprehending the big picture. An overview of each paragraph can give an idea of its ideological bent along with the information it may contain.

In an IELTS test, the task at hand is to understand the text to answer maximum questions correctly versus the general motive of observing the language, gaining information, and vocabulary. So focusing on the larger motive of the text by reading through the first and last paragraphs of the section and the first and last lines of all the paragraphs in between can give a fair idea to answer questions confidently.

Here’s a part of an IELTS reading text, a cursory glance over a few parts of which can help solve the following question.


A  Open your eyes in sea water and it is difficult to see much more than a murky, bleary green colour. Sounds, too, are garbled and difficult to comprehend. Without specialized equipment humans would be lost in these deep sea habitats, so how do fish make it seem so easy? Much of this is due to a biological phenomenon known as electroreception – the ability to perceive and act upon electrical stimuli as part of the overall senses. This ability is only found in aquatic or amphibious species because water is an efficient conductor of electricity.

B  Electroreception comes in two variants. While all animals (including humans) generate electric signals, because they are emitted by the nervous system, some animals have the ability – known as passive electroreception – to receive and decode electric signals generated by other animals in order to sense their location.

C  Other creatures can go further still, however. Animals with active electroreception possess bodily organs that generate special electric signals on cue. These can be used for mating signals and territorial displays as well as locating objects in the water. Active electroreceptors can differentiate between the various resistances that their electrical currents encounter. This can help them identify whether another creature is prey, predator or something that is best left alone. Active electroreception has a range of about one body length – usually just enough to give its host time to get out of the way or go in for the kill.

H  There is much that we do not yet know concerning how electroreception functions. Although researchers have documented how electroreception alters hunting, defence and communication systems through observation, the exact neurological processes that encode and decode this information are unclear. Scientists are also exploring the role electroreception plays in navigation. Some have proposed that salt water and magnetic fields from the Earth’s core may interact to form electrical currents that sharks use for migratory purposes.

On skimming through the parts of the section, one can have a general idea that the section is about the electroreception, its use by animals and humans learning from the aquatic animals’ mechanism of communicating with each other, their prey on a obstacle etc. to build and refine security and defence systems.

Questions 1–3            (USE THE BOX TEXT IN A PICTURE FORMAT)

Reading Passage 1 has eight paragraphs, A–H.

Which paragraph, out of A-C contains the following information?

Write the correct letter, A–C, in boxes 1–3 on your answer sheet.

1. how electroreception can be used to help fish reproduce

2. the term for the capacity which enables an animal to pick up but not send out electrical signals

3. why only creatures that live in or near water have electroreceptive abilities

On reading the first line, ambiguity may arise as skimming through the first lines of the paragraphs didn’t connect the dots of electroreception and reproduction. So, we need to move to other questions for clarity on this one.

The last sentence of the second paragraph mentions passive electroreception, and the line following the term corresponds to the second option in the question, hence answer 2 is B.

For the 3rd question, the first paragraph is the right fit as it underlines the reason for the need for electroreception especially for aquatic animals and water’s ability to conduct current; so A matches the description to question 3 best.

By elimination, C can be matched to question 1.

Skimming can help solve the following types of questions and ways to get information from the text:

- matching headings

- matching paragraph summary

- locating paragraphs to find details

Scanning is setting eyes on details to get to the exact detail needed to answer a particular question. In other words, it is zooming strategically through the big picture to the pixel level.

Most questions in an IELTS reading text want us to mark a certain piece of data as a response. Every question has one or more keywords. Scanning is to find the exact data pieces. They can be dates, names, numbers, scientific terms (concepts, phenomena etc.).

The questions that follow a part of an IELTS reading section can be answered by scanning through parts of the text:

F  Many people fear swimming in the ocean because of sharks. In some respects, this concern is well grounded – humans are poorly equipped when it comes to electro receptive defence mechanisms. Sharks, meanwhile, hunt with extraordinary precision. They initially lock onto their prey through a keen sense of smell (two thirds of a shark’s brain is devoted entirely to its olfactory organs). As the shark reaches proximity to its prey, it tunes into electric signals that ensure a precise strike on its target; this sense is so strong that the shark even attacks blind by letting its eyes recede for protection.

G  Normally, when humans are attacked it is purely by accident. Since sharks cannot detect from electroreception whether or not something will satisfy their tastes, they tend to “try before they buy”, taking one or two bites and then assessing the results (our sinewy muscle does not compare well with plumper, softer prey such as seals). Repeat attacks are highly likely once a human is bleeding, however; the force of the electric field is heightened by salt in the blood which creates the perfect setting for a feeding frenzy. In areas where shark attacks on humans are likely to occur, scientists are exploring ways to create artificial electroreceptors that would disorient the sharks and repel them from swimming beaches.


Questions 10–13

Complete the summary below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE words from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in boxes 10–13 on your answer sheet.

Shark Attack

A shark is a very effective hunter. Firstly, it uses its 10 ……………….. to smell its target. When the shark gets close, it uses 11 ……………….. to guide it toward an accurate attack. Within the final few feet the shark rolls its eyes back into its head. Humans are not popular food sources for most sharks due to their 12 ………………... Nevertheless, once a shark has bitten a human, a repeat attack is highly possible as salt from the blood increases the intensity of the 13 ………………...

The paragraphs above have been selected by skimming through the whole text as both of them contain the word sharks in the first line, and that gives an idea that the paragraphs will contain the information we require in questions 10-13.

Locating the keyword sense of smell gives it away that the answer 10 is olfactory organs. For answer 11, the most important aspect is for the attack to be accurate. Scanning for similar terms will help us get to the phrase precise attack on the target which leads us to its ability to use electric signals for the purpose.

Finding the keyword humans, and reading a little further will help us understand that it’s the humans’ sinewy muscles that make them unpopular food for sharks. (answer 12)

For answer 13, scanning for a combination of repeat attack and an increase of can help us come to the conclusion that it is the electric field whose intensity gets elevated in blood salt.

Scanning can help solve the following types of questions and ways to get information from the text:

- True/ false

- matching paragraph information

- summary completion

- sentence completion questions

- multiple choice questions

- list selection

- classification questions

- matching sentence endings

- table/flowchart/diagram completion

What is a Good Score in IELTS Reading?

A score of 6.5 and above is a good score for an academic test for both graduate and undergraduate students. (Score requirements however, varies for different programs and universities.)

Here’s a table showing the required correct answer score to a good band score.

Correct AnswersBand Score

The complete IELTS Reading test is a one-hour exam and time-management is a crucial skill that can be made effective by skimming and scanning. Every section consists about 13-14 questions each, and each question roughly gets a little over a minute. So, speed reading with the ability to understand the context and paraphrasing with good retention can get students to score very well.

All techniques work in combination with promptness, so having a good presence of mind will not let any deterrent overpower a test taker’s ability to solve the given questions.

Lastly, developing these techniques requires practice, therefore, test takers should thoroughly review the available IELTS exam dates and finalize a slot that gives them enough time to prepare. Consulting with their study abroad consultants is another essential aspect to keep in mind as individuals need to present their IELTS scores while applying for study abroad.