How Can I Practice Skimming For the IELTS Reading Test?

The IELTS reading test is not just a simple reading comprehension test. There are many skills, such as skimming and scanning, which the examiners test during this part of the IELTS exam. Skimming is an ability which is a must in order to score well in the IELTS reading section. In this article, we will learn more about skimming and go through just a few practice examples, similar to those that I teach in my Singapore IELTS classes.

What Is Skimming?

Skimming refers to the ability to go through a reading passage in order to get a general idea about it, without reading in detail. This helps to understand the layout of the passage, which is useful for when you have to scan the text in order to locate specific information required for questions in the IELTS reading test. It also helps you to understand the main ideas and overall tone of the passage.

IELTS Reading Test – Skimming Basic Steps

Start off by reading the title and sub-heading, if there is one. The heading of a passage gives us our first connection to the passage. We then to go through the first paragraph without reading the text in detail. The first paragraph of any reading passage connects us to the rest of the passage and gives us a connection to the writer and their views, so we need to spend a bit more time on this paragraph than we do the others.

The next step involves locating the topic sentences within each paragraph. Topic sentences are those sentences which give us the main idea of the main paragraph. You can usually find them at the beginning of a paragraph (the first two sentences). To skim each paragraph effectively, I recommend that you obtain the main idea of a paragraph from the topic sentence. Briefly go through the rest of the paragraph and look for words or phrases that confirm your main idea. You should also keep an eye out for unique words, like names, numbers and terminology that might be useful later when you are answering questions. Do not read every word.

The last step is to go through the last paragraph in a similar manner to the first paragraph. This paragraph will mention the dominant opinion of the passage.

IELTS Reading Skimming Practice Exercises

Let us look at a few examples to demonstrate the following points:

Sample Paragraph:

“Chronobiology might sound a little futuristic – like something from a science fiction novel, perhaps  – but it’s actually a field of study that concerns one of the oldest processes life on this planet has ever known: short-term rhythms of time and their effect on flora and fauna.”

The topic sentence “Chronobiology might sound a little futuristic – like something from a science fiction novel, perhaps” gives us the idea that this paragraph is about something called chronobiology. We might not have any idea about what that is, but we can assume so, because of the terminology used in the paragraph.

Another practice example:

Summer leaves are green because they are full of chlorophyll, the molecule that captures sunlight converts that energy into new building materials for the tree. As fall approaches in the northern hemisphere, the amount of solar energy available declines considerably. For many trees – evergreen conifers being an exception – the best strategy is to abandon photosynthesis* until the spring. So rather than maintaining the now redundant leaves throughout the winter, the tree saves its precious resources and discards them. But before letting its leaves go, the tree dismantles their chlorophyll molecules and ships their valuable nitrogen back into the twigs. As chlorophyll is depleted, other colours that have been dominated by it throughout the summer begin to be revealed. This unmasking explains the autumn colours of yellow and orange, but not the brilliant reds and purples of trees such as the maple or sumac.

The topic sentence of the above paragraph is about the chemical chlorophyll. Words like ‘chlorophyll molecules’ and ‘photosynthesis’ within the paragraph confirm that this paragraph is primarily about chlorophyll and its relation to leaves and photosynthesis.

Jonathan has been teaching students to prepare for the IELTS and PTE Exams for more than 10+ years. He's taught English to students in various countries in the world including Singapore, China, Australia, Canada and Colombia.