Initially I always answer this question with a question, ‘Let me ask you something, do you read or understand every word when you’re reading in your own language?’
The answer is always ‘No’ which means that you already have some reading skills and strategies in your own language for understanding a text even if you don’t read/understand every word.
All we have to do now is use these same reading skills when we read in English. The language may be different but the skills are basically the same.
So what are these skills?
The four reading skills I’m going to discuss in this post are ‘Skimming’, ‘Scanning’, ‘Extensive reading’ and ‘Intensive reading’.
Skimming is used when we want to understand the main idea or ‘gist’. You basically run your eyes over the text and gather the important information. You don’t need to understand every word when you skim read.
In ‘real life’, we often skim read newspapers to get the general news. In the IELTS Reading Test, it is usually to get the main idea of the passage as in my post Tips for answering different question task types in the IELTS Reading Test.
Scanning is used when we need to find a particular piece of information. You basically run your eyes over the text and look specifically for the particular piece of information you need. As with skimming, you don’t need to understand every word when you scan read.
In ‘real life’, we use scanning for timetables or a guide to an exhibition or conference. In the IELTS Reading Test, it is to get specific information required in certain task types as in my post Tips for answering different question task types in the IELTS Reading Test.
The next two types of reading are used to improve your reading skills in general.
Extensive reading is usually used for longer texts for pleasure. It is not necessary to understand every word; you are reading for enjoyment, to generally improve your reading speed and to get a general understanding.
I always tell my students to read what actually interests them in their free time. So, sure, if you like reading novels and literature in your own language then read novels and literature in English. If you don’t, read magazines in English or comics or whatever you read in your own language. I’ve seen too many students unsuccessfully try to read Charles Dickens in English when they’ve never read a novel in their own language.
Intensive reading is different from the other types of reading we’ve discussed in that it is important to understand each word and fact. It is basically accurate reading used for detailed understanding. We usually use intensive reading on shorter texts to gain specific information.
We use Intensive Reading when we are checking bank statements of for reading a documents we are about to sign.
Skimming and Scanning are strategies you will actually use when doing IELTS Reading Tests. Extensive and Intensive Reading will be strategies you will implement when trying to improve your reading skills in general.
There are varioius ways to practise these strategies. Over the years, I have taught from many different IELTS books and I always recommend that my students purchase Adams & Austen IELTS books. These books contain so many useful practice exercises for IELTS.
Don’t forget that if you buy these books here, I will mark an IELTS Task 1 Writing and an IELTS Task 2 Writing from the book you have purchased.
Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!