IELTS Reading Tutorial 2 | Specific Meaning & General Understanding

Scanning for specific detail and skimming for general understanding

What are skimming and scanning skills?

In the IELTS Reading test you need to be able to read faster than your normal pace. You also need to be able to quickly find particular words and phrases. This means that you need to fast AND accurate.

How does the IELTS Reading test evaluate my skill at finding exact information or detail in an IELTS Reading passage?

There are a variety of IELTS Reading question types that test how well you can find facts in a text. Often they are a completion task, where you have a gap to fill, or you may have to answer short questions.


Scanning is reading through a text quickly in order to locate certain information that such as a person's name, the name of a place or maybe a date. In IELTS Reading questions, there are often words, names or numbers that you can scan for. This helps you to know where to find the correct answer.


Skimming is when you read a text quickly to understand the main idea or information that is contained in the passage. You need to skim IELTS Reading passages to get a general idea of the content. You also need to skim the questions and passage when looking for the answers.

Short answer questions

Short answer questions often begin with wh-words because they are designed to test whether you can find concrete facts/information in the Reading passage.

You should look at the IELTS reading test questions and understand them thoroughly before beginning and decide what information you need to look for and whether scanning (for example, finding a certain word, the name of something/someone or a number) or skimming will be the best technique to find the answer.

In a block of short answer questions you will find that the answers occur in the same order as the questions; so you will be able to look for the answers sequentially and save time.

Remember that when you move on to another block of questions you may have to start reading from the beginning of the text again in order to find the answers for that particular block of questions.

Make sure you use the exact words that are in the passage and that you spell them correctly, when the instruction in the questions tells you to "Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer."

Referencing words

Writers avoid repetition by using reference words and phrases that refer back (or forward) to a word or idea in the IELTS Reading passage. You need to be able to identify these reference words and understand what they relate to. Some examples of referencing words are:
  • this process (which process?)
  • the decline (of what?)
  • there they spend time (where and who?)
  • influencing this (influencing what?)
  • other problems (what is the main problem explained?)
  • these measures (which measures?)
  • these devices (which devices?)
  • such barriers (which barriers?)
  • these changes (which changes?)

Completing a flowchart/diagram/table

The information you need to complete a flowchart, diagram or table is usually based on one part of the passage.

Use the title of the chart to help you find the right part. Use the words provided to help you predict the type of answer you need.

NOTE: Unlike the sentence completion tasks, in this task you will not always find the answers in the same order in the passage.

Identifying main and supporting ideas

What is the difference between the main idea(s) in a paragraph and the supporting ideas?

The majority of paragraphs in typical discursive or argumentative articles/passages will contain a minimum of one main idea and usually these ideas will be supported using some examples or additional detailed explanations.

How does identifying main ideas and supporting points help me answer IELTS Reading questions?

Being able to separate main ideas from supporting points is a key reading skill. It helps you understand a text more quickly. It helps you find the important information, which IELTS Reading questions often test.

Quickly read each paragraph and try to identify the main ideas and the examples which support it - and underline them.

IELTS Reading multiple choice questions

Multiple choice IELTS Reading questions often require detailed reading of the paragraphs because the questions may be written to test your understanding of the main idea or supporting points.

Also, the wrong options (called distractions) will come from the same part of the passage as the answer, and you need to eliminate these.

How to approach IELTS Reading multiple choice questions

Underline the key words in the question and use these to quickly find the part of the passage that you need to read in detail. In some IELTS Reading multiple choice questions, the options complete a sentence and in others, they answer a question.

IELTS Reading test practice TRUE/FALSE/NOTGIVEN questions

Take some time to read the instructions to this type of task carefully so that you understand the difference between a FALSE answer and a NOT GIVEN answer.

If you write FALSE as your answer, you are saying that the information in the statement contradicts (is the opposite) of the information in the passage. This is quite different from a NOT GIVEN answer, which says that you can find nothing in the passage about this information.

How to approach IELTS Reading TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN questions

Underline the key words in the questions and use these to find the right part of the passage (even a NOT GIVEN statement will be based on something in the passage).

For a TRUE answer, make sure that the information in the passage exactly matches the idea in the statement.

For a FALSE answer, make sure that the statement contradicts the information in the passage.

For a NOT GIVEN answer, you should be able to find the topic of the statement in the passage but nothing on what is said about the topic.

TIP: Even if you believe the answer is TRUE according to your own general knowledge and experience of the world. You must find evidence in the passage for a TRUE answer to be correct.

Your answers must be based on the IELTS Reading passage - not on your opinion.