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Scanning texts in the IELTS reading test

As you may know, there are several different question types in the IELTS reading test. Each one requires you to understand specific parts of the text. Some questions ask you to find and write words from a paragraph, to match sentences together, to choose options or to complete a summary using given words. To do all of these, you must learn how to scan the text effectively.

Scanning means looking for very specific information; a word, phrase, number or date for example. When you scan, you are like the barcode reader at the supermarket. You look at every character of the code to find the full number and that tells you what the product is.

There are several texts in the IELTS reading paper and each one has a title. Make sure you read it first to give you a general understanding of the topic and to start predicting what kinds of words you’ll read in the text itself and more importantly, what the main message will be.

In the IELTS reading test, it’s a good idea to quickly skim the first text so you get the overall meaning of the content. Next, you should read the first question section to understand the question type and what kinds of answers you need. For instance, do they ask for one word, two words, a date, a time or an idea or opinion? Remember to underline the key words in the question so that you know what information to scan for.

If you skimmed the text well, you should have a fairly good idea about which part of the text the question is referring to but you will still need to scan the text to find the key words (names / dates / places / times etc). Once you locate the section of the text which contains the answer, you need to read it again, this time very carefully, until you can be sure of your answer. Don’t forget to look around the word(s) too for extra clues. Go back to the question to choose or write the correct response and, if you have time, check the text again to confirm.

However, don’t spend too long reading each text in the same way that you would when reading a good book. The IELTS test is about demonstrating your general comprehension of each text and that you have the ability to find, extract and understand specific parts by answering precise questions. This relies a lot on your knowledge of vocabulary, especially in the Academic IELTS test where many of the answers are related to academic words. The level of vocabulary gets progressively harder with each text so the final one will be quite difficult, but remember you don’t necessarily need to understand the meaning of every word in order to answer the question.

You can practise scanning with any text. Take a look at this simple article to help you try it out. Just read it quickly and underline specific information like dates, names and places. Then think of what types of IELTS test questions you could get about that information. For example, could they ask you multiple choice questions, T/F/NG, gap-fills, matching statements or completing notes/summaries?

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