Skimming and Scanning Techniques

Skimming and scanning are two key techniques that can help you read more efficiently, especially under timed conditions, such as exams.

Skimming for an Overall Impression

Skimming involves quickly reading through a text to gain an overall impression. It’s not about understanding every word or detail, but about getting a general sense of what the text is about.

Start by reading the title and subtitles to get an idea of the topic.

  • Read the first and last sentences of each paragraph. These often contain the main ideas.
  • Pay attention to any words or phrases that are repeated, as these are likely to be important.

Scanning for Specific Information

Scanning involves looking for specific information in a text. It’s like being a detective: you know what you’re looking for, and you’re scanning the text to find it. Let’s look at how to scan text:

  • Know what you’re looking for before you start scanning. This could be a specific fact, a date, a name or any other piece of information.
  • Let your eyes move quickly over the text, looking for the specific information you need.
  • Don’t read every word or sentence. Instead, let your eyes jump from one piece of information to the next.

Using Headings, Subheadings and Signposting Features

Signposting features such as headings, subheadings and the use of text styles like bold or italics can assist in skimming and scanning by giving you clues about the content of the text.

For example, a heading like “The Impact of Climate Change” tells you that the following section will discuss this topic. Bold or italicised words can also signal important points or terms.

Distinguishing Important from Non-Important Information

Being able to distinguish important from non-important information quickly can save you time and help you focus on what’s most relevant.

Key points are often found in the first and last sentences of a paragraph, while supporting details or examples are in the middle. Look for words or phrases that signal importance, such as “most importantly,” “in conclusion,” or “the key point is.”

Using Skimming and Scanning Techniques Under Timed Conditions

In an exam, time is of the essence, so let’s look at three tips for using skimming and scanning techniques under timed conditions:

  • Set Time Limits – Allocate specific time for skimming and scanning. For example, spend the first 5 minutes skimming to understand the overall context, then dedicate the next 10 minutes to scan for specific details. 
  • Practice with Past Papers – The best way to improve your skimming and scanning skills under timed conditions is through practice. Use past exam papers or other reading materials and set a timer to simulate exam conditions. 
  • Stay Focused – Maintain your focus on the task at hand. When scanning, you’re looking for specific information, not trying to understand everything. If you find yourself starting to read in-depth, remind yourself to stay on task.

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