skim and scan reading

Scan and Skim Reading

Scan Reading

Main idea behind scan reading is very much the same. You cover great volumes of text without spending much time on it. The purpose of scan reading is to find specific data without reading the whole material. It is especially effective when you are looking for names, numbers and figures — such things usually stand out in the text.

This technique should be used together with skim reading — they complete and complement each other. Whereas skim reading help you outline the general text fragment to look at, scan reading is a more precise tool that aids in finding the answers you need.

After you have located the relevant paragraph with skim reading you start quickly going through sentences looking for the piece of information you require. You should always keep in mind what exactly you’re looking for. This will ensure that your search is going to be more effective.

Using your pen or pencil to help trace the point of text you are at is a good idea. It will save you the time you might waste on going back to part of the text you have already scanned.

Examples

These examples are taken from IELTS official webpage

[some text left out, irrelevant to the current task]

All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts. For example, land clearing for agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides may contaminate water supplies; more intensive farming and the abandonment of fallow periods tend to exacerbate soil erosion; and the spread of monoculture and use of highyielding varieties of crops have been accompanied by the disappearance of old varieties of food plants which might have provided some insurance against pests or diseases in future. Soil erosion threatens the productivity of land in both rich and poor countries. The United States, where the most careful measurements have been done, discovered in 1982 that about one-fifth of its farmland was losing topsoil at a rate likely to diminish the soil’s productivity. The country subsequently embarked upon a program to convert 11 per cent of its cropped land to meadow or forest. Topsoil in India and China is vanishing much faster than in America.

Government policies have frequently compounded the environmental damage that farming can cause. In the rich countries, subsidies for growing crops and price supports for farm output drive up the price of land. The annual value of these subsidies is immense: about $250 billion, or more than all World Bank lending in the 1980s. To increase the output of crops per acre, a farmer’s easiest option is to use more of the most readily available inputs: fertilisers and pesticides. Fertiliser use doubled in Denmark in the period 1960-1985 and increased in The Netherlands by 150 per cent. The quantity of pesticides applied has risen too: by 69 per cent in 1975-1984 in Denmark, for example, with a rise of 115 per cent in the frequency of application in the three years from 1981.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s some efforts were made to reduce farm subsidies. The most dramatic example was that of New Zealand, which scrapped most farm support in 1984. A study of the environmental effects, conducted in 1993, found that the end of fertiliser subsidies had been followed by a fall in fertiliser use (a fall compounded by the decline in world commodity prices, which cut farm incomes). The removal of subsidies also stopped land-clearing and over-stocking, which in the past had been the principal causes of erosion. Farms began to diversify. The one kind of subsidy whose removal appeared to have been bad for the environment was the subsidy to manage soil erosion.

1.Research completed in 1982 found that in the United States soil erosion
A. reduced the productivity of farmland by 20 per cent.
B. was almost as severe as in India and China.
C. was causing significant damage to 20 per cent of farmland.
D. could be reduced by converting cultivated land to meadow or forest.

2.By the mid-1980s, farmers in Denmark
A. used 50 per cent less fertiliser than Dutch farmers.
B. used twice as much fertiliser as they had in 1960.
C. applied fertiliser much more frequently than in 1960.
D. more than doubled the amount of pesticide they used in just 3 years.

3.Which one of the following increased in New Zealand after 1984?
A. farm incomes
B. use of fertiliser
C. over-stocking
D. farm diversification

As the questions in Reading part of almost any English exam follow one another (meaning than question 1 will have the answer somewhere in the very beginning) it is safe to think that first paragraph will have the information we need. This is why we can go straight to scan reading.

The keywords in  question 1 are research, 1982, United States. This is another reason why we can go scan reading from the beginning. Both United States and 1982 are easy to find because of capitalization and digits.
We find the necessary sentence at the end of the paragraph: “The United States, where…”. Now you should read the previous and the following sentences as well to have a better understand of context.

Now let’s have a look at the answers:

A. reduced the productivity of farmland by 20 per cent. — no information was given as to the exact figure of damage caused by erosion
B. was almost as severe as in India and China. — the effects of erosion in these countries are stronger, as mentioned in the last sentence.
C. was causing significant damage to 20 per cent of farmland. — 20 % is paraphrased as one-fifth. This is the right answer
D. could be reduced by converting cultivated land to meadow or forest. — no such information was given. It was only mentioned that the country plans to convert some of its land.

Now try answering the remaining two questions using skim and scan reading.

As you should know by know, answers to Reading questions in IELTS and CAE go one after another in the text. Scan reading enables you to quickly decide whether the text section contains any relevant info judging by the first sentence of the paragraph. It will let you skip whole paragraphs of useless reading!
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