Scan and Skim Reading

skim and scan reading

Skim reading and scan reading are two fundamentally different approaches, both extremely effective. Knowing these two techniques is a valuable asset at your exam and studying in general. Mastering them is a guarantee that your learning process will never be the same.

So what are they exactly? Simply put, skim reading is getting the general idea of a sentence, a paragraph or even a text without reading it thoroughly. Scan reading on the other hand is looking for specific information in the text, again, without spending too much time it. Combined, these two techniques can save you the precious time in the Reading part of your exam. Not to mention that they will become an invaluable tool in anything involving learning something new or searching for information.

Skim Reading

Skim reading, or simply skimming, is going through more information by spending considerably less time on it. The aim of skimming is to get the general idea of the text rather than learning the finer points of it. It is just the right tool for when you are short on time — which is basically any exam or even getting prepared for one (that said, you are welcome to use this technique when cramming).

Skim reading can be done differently. One way to skim read is to quickly read the first sentence of the paragraph. By nature, this sentence has to introduce the topic that is going to be mentioned next. This means that if the sentence doesn’t seem to have any relation to the topic you are looking for then you can save yourself the trouble of reading the remainder of that paragraph. This might sound reckless, but all it takes is experience to develop sound judgement and specific hunch for such things. In other words, the more you practice, the better you get at seeing relevant information in the paragraph judging by its first sentence.

Some writers like to start their paragraphs with a question. In that case, the first sentence might not be helpful. Instead, you would want to look at the last couple of sentences in the same paragraph – they are most likely to have the answer to that question. Using that knowledge you decide whether the paragraph may contain the information you need. Generally speaking, checking last sentences is a good idea even when the beginning of the paragraph gives a clear outline. Naturally, last sentences arrive at some kind of conclusion which can be worth reading even when skimming the text.

When skimming, you might want to quickly look through the whole paragraph for the following:

  • Typographical irregularities – words that are written in bold, italics or are underlined. Such text decorations are used for a reason — the author might have used that to draw your attention to it.
  • Asterisks* and footnotes 1
  • Capitalized words. Naturally they are easy to spot because of upper case first letter. These are usually proper nouns, and thus they cannot be paraphrased, which means they are very helpful when searching for keywords.
  • Numbers (digits) – easy to spot, hard to paraphrase.
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