Last Updated 16 Aug 2020

The Study of English Reading Strategies for English Majors in Ielts

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  1. Background of the research Nowadays, more and more Chinese students choose to study or travel abroad, so English becomes more and more important. International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an international standardized test of English language proficiency. It becomes one of the most popular exams for those who want to go abroad. In IELTS, reading is the most difficult part for many candidates, because in one hour candidates should finish 3 passages and 40 test items. And most candidates have problems either understanding the subject matter or completing all the sections. Even English majors, can not do well in the reading test. They usually lose many scores in the reading test. Almost every examinee wants to improve their standard of reading. Although they try to use some strategies which were taught by their teachers or trainers, they can’t use these strategies effectively. Many scholars from home and abroad have noticed that the use of English reading strategies is very important and useful for candidates to do the English reading texts in IELTS. They also find that how to use various strategies effectively. For example, skimming is one of the most frequently used strategies in IELTS.
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  3. Significance of the research Although teachers and trainers have introduced many strategies of English reading, most of the students, even English majors who take the exam of IELTS, always make many mistakes in the reading tests. In fact, many scholars or teachers have already concluded various strategies for the English reading test. For example, students or examinees should use the strategy “skimming” to reading a paragraph or a passage quickly to get an idea of what it is about, without trying to understand its details. However, many students, even English majors, just know the meaning of “skimming”, but cannot apply this strategy correctly and effectively to their reading test. In addition, because the time is limited, examiners do not have time to use the reading strategies he has learned. Or maybe they haven’t developed the reading skills in his former study. Therefore, research in this area will be of great significance. This research aims to find out English Majors’ condition and the existing problem in using the reading strategies in IELTS. For students and examinees, it will help them to understand the basic meaning of each strategy, to form their own reading skills, and to use various strategies effectively in different kinds of reading test items IELTS and to make fewer mistakes in the test.
  4. Hypothesis This study aims at investigating what the reading strategies are, when they should be used and how to use various strategies effectively. It can provide some suggestions for using reading strategies for English majors to take the exam of IELTS.
  5. Research questions
  • What are the English reading strategies in IELTS for English majors?
  • When various strategies can be used in different reading test items in IELTS?
  • How to use various strategies in the IELTS reading test effectively?

II. Literature Review

The definition of reading Far from being a “passive” skill, reading, is in fact, an active process in which readers relate information in the text to what they already knew. Knowledge of language allows readers to identify printed words and sentences. The purposes of good readers are means that they do not decode each letter or each word. Instead, they take in chunks of the text and relate it to what they know. Traditionally, many psychologists and teachers have insisted that reading is nothing more than decoding writing symbols to sounds. (i. e. figuring out what the printed word says). Others traditionally have insisted that reading involves not only decoding from print to sound, but also comprehending the written material. Forrest-Pressley and Waller (1984) felt that reading is not merely a decoding process nor it is solely a comprehension. The reading process is not just a “decoding plus comprehension” but reading involves even more. It involves at least three types of skills: decoding, comprehension, and nature reading strategies. Besides, reading traditionally has been considered a cognitive task. An unfortunate consequence of such a view of reading is that there has been no room for concern for the “executive control” that is done by a skilled reader. Only recently have several authors suggested that reading might involve metacognition as well as cognition.

Johnson (1983) has attempted to approach the issue of accessing comprehension from a rational point of view. He first considers what reading comprehension is, and then considers what factors influence it and its assessment--- including reader and text characteristics. He comes to a definition of reading comprehension: That is reading comprehension is considered to be a complex behavior, which involves conscious and unconscious uses of various strategies, including problem--- solving strategies, to build a model of the meaning, which is assumed to have intended. The model is constructed using schematic knowledge structures and the various systems, which the writer has given (e. g. words, syntax, macrostructure, social information) to generate hypotheses, which are tested using various logical and pragmatic strategies. Most of this model must be inferred, since text can never be fully explicit and, in general, very little of it is explicit because even the appropriate intentional and extensional meanings of words must be inferred from their context.

The definition of English reading strategy

It would be helpful to review a concise definition of reading strategies, but unfortunately, there is no consensus among researchers. At least, three problems persist. First, it is not clear how to differentiate reading strategies from other processes that might be called thinking, reasoning, perceptual study, or motivational strategies. Weinstein and Mayer (1986) defined cognitive strategies as a broad array of actions that help to control behavior, emotions, motivation, communication, attention, and comprehension.

Although each kind of strategy might influence reading, not all researchers would classify them as reading strategies. A second problem concerns the scope strategies--- are they global or specific? Levin (1986) argued that strategies include multiple components that must be carefully analyzed, whereas Derry and Murphy (1986) distinguished strategies as general learning plans that are difficult to demarcate when they are embedded in complex sequences of behavior or hierarchies of decision. The third problem involves internationality and consciousness, considering these opposing viewpoints. To be a strategy, the means must be employed deliberately, with some awareness, in order to produce or influence the goal. “Also, it is now recognized that strategies function at its best occurs without deliberation. It is more reflexive than voluntary” Since the 1970s there has been no shortage of L2 theorists advocating teaching students to use a variety of reading strategies in order to read better. Their strategies run argument form the traditionally recognized reading skills of skimming and scanning, contextual guessing or skipping unknown words, tolerating ambiguity, reading for meaning, critical reading, and make inferences, to more recently recognized strategies text structure (Block). Researchers in the L1 (First Language Learning) and L2 fields have demonstrated that the strategy used is different in proficient readers. More proficient readers use them in different ways.  Many of the examinees in IELTS often make mistakes in these two kinds of test items. Therefore, we will carry out research on reading strategies on these two parts and figure out whether English majors use reading strategies to do these two kinds of test items in IELTS.

The English reading strategies in IELTS

Search reading is the strategy likely to be used by candidates to help them find specific information and answer as quickly and accurately as possible in reading examinations. Search reading is defined by Urqhuart and Weir (1998) as the strategy used to locate and comprehend discrete pieces of information on predetermined topics in order to answer a set of questions or provide data. According to the authors, the readers do not necessarily have to start by reading the whole text to get the gist. Moreover, search reading seems to be compatible at different points with scanning, skimming, and ‘careful global reading’ (i. . comprehension of the main ideas in the text). That is, the first step in search reading involves the process of locating (scanning) the words that are noted in a question and matching them to the same or related information in the text. Skimming is then used to select the specific text that seems important to answer the question. Consequently, the text selected will be read more carefully to find out if it definitely answers the question, which means careful global reading will then take place (by reference to the parts of the text selected and not to the whole text, as discussed above). Search reading is also addressed by other authors such as Dreher (1992), Guthrie and Kirsch (1987), Symons and Specht (1994), as well as Enright et al. (2000) specifically in relation to English language reading examinations.

III. Research Methodology

  1. Instruments In this research, we will use “individual interview” and “think aloud” as our research methods. The main advantage of face-to-face or direct interviews is that the researcher can adapt the questions as necessary, clarify doubt and ensure that the responses are properly understood, by repeating or rephrasing the questions. The researcher can also pick up nonverbal cues from the respondent. Any discomfort, stress, and problems that the respondent experiences can be detected through frowns, nervous tapping, and another body language, unconsciously exhibited by any person. We will design several questions related to our topic. A notable advantage of think-aloud protocols over individual interviews as a data collection method with respect to information behavior is that they are at least able to elicit data at the time of the experience in question and the accuracy of the material contributed will therefore not be affected by lapses in memory. To investigate whether a search reading strategy is used in reading examinations, a questionnaire asked 40 international postgraduate students who had done IELTS which strategies they used when reading text and answering questions in the academic reading task. The questionnaire was composed of a single question, which asked participants to choose the steps they followed and to put them in order. These steps were based on the steps recommended for the IELTS reading module, but three steps were added to extend the scope of the questionnaire. Participants reported that they underlined the keywords in the questions (23 participants), scanned the passage to find the keywords (23 participants), and read the text around the keyword carefully after finding it (30 participants). These results, therefore, suggest that the most common strategy used when reading under time pressure in examinations is compatible with search reading (as described at the beginning of this section). Furthermore, it seems that two distinct aspects of selective processing are involved in search reading: perceptual and conceptual processing of text. This distinction is based on Masson's (1982, 1985) characterization of cognitive processes in skimming stories. Applying Masson's theory to English language reading examinations, candidates may look for visual features, i. e. key words, in the text relevant to the question, which is a perceptual process. Having located the pertinent information, they then more carefully read the phrases containing the keywords so that the answer can be found, accurately comprehended, and extracted to answer the question, which is a conceptual process.
  2. Research Setting and Sampling We did our research at Capital Normal University. In this research, we chose three English majors to be the interviewees. First, the three interviewees attended the interview one by one. They were asked some questions about English reading strategies. These might help us researchers know more about the interviewees and their knowledge, opinion, and recognition of reading strategies. Then, the three interviewees attended the think-aloud one by one. We researchers chose one piece of IELTS reading passage for the interviewees to finish. During the test, they were asked some questions about the test items and their feelings about the reading test while they were doing the test. The whole passage: Search begins for 'Earth' beyond the solar system (shown in the appendix).
  3. Design During the interview, we will ask interviewees to answer some questions about reading strategies, such as their recognition of English reading strategies, the usage of reading strategies, the effect of using reading strategies, etc. During the think-aloud, we will give each of them a piece of IELTS reading passage, and ask them to finish all the exercises after the passage. When they are doing the exercise, we will ask them one or two questions of each test item about English reading strategies.
  4. Analyzing Procedures

Step 1: Select three English majors from the CNU on different levels.

Step 2: The three interviewees will be interviewed individually. Several questions about reading strategies will be asked. Their answer will be recorded in an excel file.

Step 3: The three students will attend the think-aloud interview one by one. During they do the reading test, several designed questions will be asked.

Step 4: Collect their answers and compare them with each other.

From the above table, we can find out the exclusive method, skimming, and scanning are the three reading strategies most frequently used by candidates. Usually, when candidates finish multiple-choice questions, they would like to use an exclusive method to ignore one or two interferential choices. And then they can choose possible answers from rest two choices, so they have a 50% opportunity to get the right answer. Question 2 to question 5 are true or false questions. Candidates used skimming to find out where are these sentences in the original text. When they focused on one sentence, they will use scanning to search for certain words to figure out whether the statement is true or false or not given.

The students who have learned the reading strategies outperformed those who didn’t know the reading strategies in every aspect as shown by their performance during the think-aloud part. (The first student and third student have learned English reading strategies before, while the second student did not know reading strategies before. So he used a long time finishing the same number of items but failed in the exam). They showed particular strengths in the IELTS reading section, suggesting that the reading strategies they have been taught really help the students to understand and focus on the test of their reading. It also seems to be the case that skimming should become a natural first step to any kind of reading readers do articles, books, newspapers, and even advertisements or bus schedules. In the short answer questions part, skimming is becoming more helpful for examinees. Skimming the text means reading very quickly. Just look at the headings, subheadings, and the first lines of each section or paragraph. The examinees need to catch the key points of the test in limited time, so skimming can save up much time than reading the test one word after another.

Another reason for the benefits of reading strategies may be that scanning is a search for information which is often some specific information. This supports and adds to the findings of Wang Li (2011), who showed similar results for English reading strategies. In the true/false/not given items, scanning can not be more proper than any other strategy. Scanning a text means looking for a specific piece of information or specific words. Ignore the information that is not relevant to your purpose. Scanning is a useful strategy to apply when the questions ask for factual information. This study has taken a step in the direction of justifying the effect of English reading strategies for English majors in the IELTS. These reading strategies can not only promote students’ understanding when they do reading exercises but also improve students’ reading ability. It may be the case that students who do not familiar with the reading strategies may easily fail the IELTS compared to those who have already learned and use reading strategies before. It is also not clear whether skimming and scanning are the most useful reading strategies for IELTS, such as note-taking and summary would succeed to the same extent. The approach outlined in this study should be replicated with other students in other classes, as well as at other levels in order to be able to recommend the effect of English reading strategies for IELTS for English majors.

Major findings

  1. English reading strategies in IELTS From the whole research, we find that although there are so many reading strategies in reading text, informants use skimming and scanning most frequently. In the IELTS reading test, there are 8 types of questions -- true or false questions, summary, heading, multiple-choice, completion, short answer, table, and matching, while, scanning and skimming can be used in most kinds of questions. In other words, scanning and skimming are the basic reading strategies in the IELTS reading test.
  2. The proper way to use various reading strategies in IELTS It is generally believed the first passage is easier than the second and third. Sometimes, however, this doesn't hold true. So, before attempting the passages, informants do an overview to get an idea about the subject matter. Different strategies can be adopted to attempt different passages. These may be skimming and scanning, reading intensively, and a hit-and-trial method. In this research, we will just focus on two kinds of reading strategies skimming and scanning. The formats of the questions in the IELTS are multiple-choice, gap-fills, short answer questions, matching, and true/false/not given. Skimming the text means reading very quickly. Just look at the headings, subheadings, and first lines of each section or paragraph. Also, notice the keywords repeated throughout the text.

The main purpose is to understand the gist -- the general idea of the text. When you need to give the title of the test, skimming can help you. Also, the matching part acquires you to skim the test in a short time. Scanning a text means looking for a specific piece of information or specific words. Ignore the information that is not relevant to your purpose. Scanning is a useful strategy to apply when the questions ask for specific factual information. For example, in the multiple choices, gap-fills, true/false/not given items, scanning can not be more helpful than any other strategy.  Implications As can be seen in the findings and discussion, English majors do know some English reading strategies while they are doing reading tests. In IELTS, the reading strategies for different kinds of reading test items are various. So this research may help English majors understand more about the English reading strategies for different reading test items in IELTS. They may get higher scores in IELTS after knowing and making full use of the various reading strategies.


  1. Camboune, B. (2001).
  2. http://www. aippg. com/ielts/strategies%20for%20reading.htm  Dreher, M. J. (1992).
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