name='viewport'/> THE IELTS: IELTS READING TEST - READING SKILLS expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>


Good reading skills are vital for academic studies. The IELTS exam test your ability to use a variety of reading skills. You have one hour to answer questions on three reading passages, so it is important to identify which skills are being tested in each question and to apply them appropriately.

The main reading skills tested in IELTS are:
- scanning 
- understanding main ideas
- reading for detail
- understanding opinions

DEVELOPING READING SKILLS 1: Skimming and scanning

Skimming means reading very quickly. It involves selective reading of the most important parts of the text in order to:
  • find out how the text is organized – that is, the way it is divided into sections or paragraphs. The way in which a text is organized gives us a clue as to what is the most important part to read.
  • get a general idea of what the text is about.

Exercise 1. Tick what you should read to get a quick overview of a text. The first one is done for you.

When you scan a text, you move your eyes over it very quickly in order to find something specific and easily recognizable. When scanning you are looking for particular information (e.g. names, places, dates, specific phrases).

Exercise 2. Which of these types of text would you scan? Which would you skim? Tick the appropriate box:

Skimming and scanning are “enabling skills”. This means that they help you tackle most questions in the exam more effectively, including for example:
  • multiple choice questions
  • matching opinions and phrases
  • completing a table
  • labeling a diagram

Exercise 3. The text below has been edited to highlight the areas that you might read when skimming or scanning a text. Read through it quickly and answer the following multiple-choice questions.

1. What is the article about?
A. fire
B. weather
C. science

2. Which of the following areas do you think the writer will discuss?
A. animals and their environment
B. modern danger warnings
C. types of storm
D. what to do in bad weather

Selective reading - will also help you to orient yourself within a text. Look at the text above. Which paragraphs will you need to read more carefully if you need to find out more about:
1. the causes of lightning (E)
2. spring storms (C)
3. storms in particular region of Europe (D)
4. storm cells (B)

Exercise 4. The following questions form an IELTS task for the text on thunderstorms. The task is matching descriptions. For matching questions, the first step is to read the list of options and to locate the part of the text with the answer. In order to do this effectively, skimming and scanning are vital.

Read the task and underline the words which you could scan the text for.

EXAM TIP: Before you begin any set of questions always check to see whether you can use your skimming or scanning skills to help you locate the answer. Often you need to use both.

DEVELOPING READING SKILLS 2: Main ideas and details

Texts are divided into paragraphs to make them easier to read. Usually a text is organized in the following way:

Introduction (para 1): statement of theme

Paragraph 2: supporting point details

Paragraph 3: supporting point details

Conclusion: summary and re-statement of main idea

In the introduction the writer will outline what he/she will write about and the main issues he/she intends to raise.

Each paragraph goes on to deal with one key issue. The writer may state the issue in a topic sentence or sentences and may summarise it in the last sentence. The writer will use supporting details to explain and develop the point the paragraph is making. Sometimes the point has to be inferred from the details.

Exercise 5. Read the following paragraph. Choose the main idea A, B or C. If there is a topic sentence, underline it.

A. the differences between animals and humans
B. the characteristics of language and music
C. the importance of language to humans

In the IELTS exam you will need to show your understanding of main ideas by matching headings to paragraphs in a text.

Exercise 6. Read the following instructions for a paragraph heading task.

In which order will you follow these steps so that you can match the correct heading to each paragraph?

A detail is an “Important” or “specific” piece of information that can be found in a text. Details are often facts and in academic texts are used to support main arguments.

Exercise 7. Read the following sentences. Which one is the main idea? Which ones are details that support the main idea?
- Prices are stable
- The economy is booming
- Consumer confidence is up
- Interest rates are low

EXAM TIP: Some questions may test a mixture of skills. For example, a multiple choice task may test your understanding of main ideas and details.

A number of different types of questions may test how well you can locate and understand detailed information. For example:
  • sentence completion
  • multiple choice
  • short answer questions
  • summary completion

Exercise 8. In the summary completion task, you have to locate the ideas in the text and then select the correct words to complete the detailed information in the gaps.

The following instructions come before a summary completion task.

In what order will you follow these steps so that you can complete the summary completion task?

Now complete the short summary below using words from the paragraph on the causes of storms.

Exercise 9. Unlike the paragraph headings task which focuses on main ideas, the paragraph matching task requires you to identify specific information within paragraphs. Each question paraphrases the information.

Read the instructions for a paragraph matching task.

EXAM TIP: A summary completion task may also test your understanding of main ideas. This happens if the summary covers the whole text or a large part of the text.

DEVELOPING READING SKILLS 3: Understanding opinions

An opinion is someone’s “belief” or “view”. Opinions differ from facts in that they are open to debate and cannot be proved to be true. They may also change over time.

Exercise 10. Which of the following statements are opinions?
- Computers have had a negative impact on children’s reading habits
- Equatorial regions of the Earth have warm climates.
- Medical treatment has improved over the past century.

As IELTS passages are academic texts, they usually contain arguments and opinions. Sometimes a passage presents the writer’s opinions on a subject; sometimes a passage presents the views of the writer and other experts.

A number of different questions may test how well you can identify opinions including, for example:
  • matching questions
  • multiple choice questions
  • YES, NO, NOT GIVEN questions

Exercise 11. Read the instructions for a YES, NO, NOT GIVEN task:

The statements are a list of opinions. You will need to use a variety of reading skills to locate the area of the passage that the question focuses on.

Write YES, NO, NOT GIVEN next to the views of the writer, which are based on the paragraph below:

  • Music needs words in order to become a truly effective means of communication (NOT GIVEN)
  • Scientists are still looking for a way to show that the brain processes music and language separately. (NOT GIVEN)
  • Paul Broca attempted to distinguish the processing mechanisms of music and language (NO)
  • The work of Broca and Wernicke marked the beginning of research into the brain and its role in the production of language. (YES)

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