Skimming and scanning texts
Skimming: looking for the gist or the general idea.
Scanning: looking for details.
One thing you don’t have a lot of in the exam is time. Your ability to read quickly and to process the information effectively is of paramount importance. you have to read texts that are up to 900 words long sometimes , so you need to develop the ability to read quickly. Two key techniques that can help you do this are skimming and scanning.
Skimming involves running your eyes quickly over the text to find out the main ideas contained within it. It is useful to:
- read the questions first to know what you are looking for.
- read the title of the text and any subheadings.
- read the first paragraph to see where the article is heading.
- read the first line of each subsequent paragraph.
- read the last paragraph, which may include a summary and/ or conclusion.
- see how any diagrams or pictures could relate to the article.
While skimming, you should:
- try to read three or four times faster than normal.
- get a good idea of what the article is about without checking new words in the dictionary.
- underline key words, e.g. dates, places, figures.
- focus on key words like nouns, verbs, adjectives.
When you look for someone’s name in a telephone directory or look a word up in a dictionary, you don’t read every line. You can scan through the text to find the information that you are looking for. For this to be successful, you need to know what you are looking for. That means you should read the question first and identify key words in it to guide you.
It is useful to:
- read the questions so you know what you are looking for.
- find the relevant part of the text as quickly as possible.
- avoid reading the text line by line.
- avoid mouthing the words as you read.
- be aware of keywords in the distractors that may also occur in the text. They may wrongly make you think you have the right part of the text.
While scanning, you should:
- look for keywords in the text – nouns that reflect the questions, and words like problem, solution, idea, goal, improvement, danger.
- look for keywords that help you interpret the text and the writer’s opinion – verbs like must, can, help, ensure, increase, offer, measure, change and adjectives and adverbials like probably, without doubt, definitely, possible, much worse.
- think of paraphrases for keywords from the question and look for them in the text.
The two strategies – skimming and scanning – work together. If you have skimmed the text effectively, then you will have a better idea of where to find the information you are looking for. You may have underlined an important fact, date, figure or keyword. While scanning, you may notice other keywords which you can underline.
Five ways to practise skimming and scanning
- Get into the habit of reading longer texts and articles in English regularly.
- Pay particular attention to the first and last paragraphs of an article.
- To get the key ideas of a text, before you read , ask yourself: who, where, what, why, when and how? Try to find the answers to those questions as you read through an article.
- Don’t focus on new vocabulary, and don’t use a dictionary on your first reading of a text.
- Don’t try to vocalize the text as you read – use your eyes, not your voice.