Skimming and scanning in the Reading part of the English exam

In the international language exams TOEFL and IELTS there is a task for understanding the text. In it you need to read several materials and answer questions. We tell you how to perform the task quickly and correctly using skimming and scanning techniques.

What are the techniques?

First, let’s understand what skimming and scanning are and how they are used.

Skimming. It’s also called cursory reading. The point is to quickly navigate the text. After reading, you have to understand what the text as a whole is about and what each paragraph says.

The methodology is similar to how newspapers are read: first they look at the headlines to understand what news is on the spread, and then they move on to the content. The same approach is used to read texts on the exam.

The title and subheadings are the keys to understanding the entire text, so it is important to translate them accurately and comprehend them. The rest should be read quickly, without going into details and without wasting time translating unfamiliar words. After that, you can immediately answer general questions to the text.

Scanning. This technique helps you find specific information in the text. Before you scan the text, you need to look through the list of questions and underline the keywords in them.

After a cursory reading, there is an understanding of what is being said in each paragraph. Now the text will have to be read more carefully and look for keywords from the questions.

The question can be worded differently than the sentence in the text, so synonyms and dates also need to be underlined. For example, “In what half of the nineteenth century did Edison invent the light bulb?”, and the text indicates the date – “20 December 1879”.

After such a reading and highlighting of keywords in the text, it is easy to find answers to questions that require accurate data and specifics.

How to use in exams

There is a block with a task for understanding the text in IELTS and TOEFL. In the first case, it is given 60 minutes, in the second – 60-80. During this time, you need to read three to four texts of one and a half pages and answer 12-14 questions to each.

Questions are divided into general and specific. Let’s see with which of them it is better to use skimming, and with which – scanning.

General questions. They are aimed at understanding the topic, for example: “Why does the author mention the problem?” or “The author gives an example of global warming in paragraph 2, to …”. Quickly answer them will help reading the text according to the skimming technique.

Specific questions. They require you to search for certain information in the text: dates, facts, theses or terms. For example, questions can be constructed through denial with the answer options “According to the text, which of the following is not true?”. Sometimes you need to enter the missing part of the text. To answer such questions, it is enough to read it twice, highlighting keywords according to the scanning technique.


You don’t have to try to translate all the text while you’re reading. There just won’t be enough time for that.

It is important to understand the topic and meaning of the text, as well as highlight keywords in order to quickly cope with the task. Fast reading techniques will help with this.

Skimming will answer general questions and scanning will answer specific ones.

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