Many IELTS students fall in to the trap of trying to understand every word in a reading text and their reading speed suffers. Many students seem to be trained to start reading at the first word of the reading text and continue word by word until the end is reached. These students set themselves the target of understanding every word and every sentence of the reading text – they are not satisfied unless they can reach this level of understanding. Very often these students will focus their attention on a pencil or their finger as they move it along the text. This type of reading – intensive reading – is great if you are reading a novel for enjoyment. This is not the only way to read and it will always slow you down in the IELTS reading exam.
What is skim reading?
Imagine this: you are flicking through a magazine and see an article but you are not sure whether you really want to read it or not. How do you decide whether to read it or not? The first thing you do is read the title, isn’t it? As soon as we read the title, we start to predict the content of the article. This is a very important stage in reading comprehension. It doesn’t matter if you predict correctly or incorrectly : the fact that we are making a prediction starts our minds working and any vocabulary that we know relating to the predicted subject of the article is “woken up.” This prediction continues as we read the subtitles and other headings. If our predictions about the content of the article are wrong, we will know that when we read the text. We are able to compare our prediction with the real content.
In the IELTS exam, you have a very short amount of time to answer all of the reading task questions. It’s not easy!! Your reading skills have to be very good to get an IELTS band score of 6.5 or higher. Skim reading a text is one of the first steps to efficient reading and it is something that you can practise doing.
How to skim read
1 Read the titles and subtitles of the text. What do they mean? What do they suggest to you?
2 Look at the pictures or photographs in the text. Do they give you any information about the content of the text?
3 Read the first and last sentences in each paragraph. What information do you get?
4 Look at the rest of the text but don’t read every word. Hunt for key words and focus on them. Ignore prepositions, articles and other “grammar” words.
5 Constantly ask yourself this: what is the text about? What kind of text is it? Is it an analysis of a subject? Or a description? Is it a discussion or a narrative?
Once you have finished skim reading a text, you should have a good idea of the content of the text and should know, in general terms, what it is about. You should be able to write one sentence summarising the text.