Posted by: Jason | April 10, 2011

Skimming, Scanning and Speeding Up Your Reading

We spend a lot of time in class reading things. It makes sense, the textbooks often have articles and dialogues that we practice in class to improve pronunciation and increase vocabulary. But, something we don’t practice a lot of is speed. Yes, it would be great if we could pick up a magazine or newspaper and instantly read and understand every word. But, that’s never true. We have only so much time to read something and sometimes we spend too much time reading things that are maybe less important and not enough time focusing on the big picture. I’ve recently been teaching TOIEC with one of my students and I’ve really come to understand how important speed can be. TOIEC isn’t really that difficult. The language is not terribly advanced. But, the problem is, there are so many questions and such a short time limit that answering the questions becomes very, very challenging.

There are a number of techniques we can use to speed up reading. One of the most basic is skimming – reading something much more quickly than normal, skipping words and even entire sentences, just to get the main ideas. This technique is primarily used for picking up specific information (Just who is the article talking about anyway) or very general ideas. You aren’t trying to understand the entire thing, just get the basics. There are many strategies that can be used when skimming. Some people read the first and last paragraphs using headings, summarizes and other organizers as they move down the page or screen. You might read the title, subtitles, subheading, and illustrations. Consider reading the first sentence of each paragraph.

Another technique is called scanning. Scanning is what you do when you try to look up a phone number in the phone book. You don’t read every name, of course, you go to the right section, then the right subsection and so on, until you reach the right name. You already know something of what you’re looking for, some key word or phrase, and you need extra information connected to that key word, just like a phone number is connected to a specific name. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down the page seeking specific words and phrases. Scanning is also used when you first find a resource to determine whether it will answer your questions. Once you’ve scanned the document, you might go back and skim it.

So, for example, if you were doing an English test, you might look at the questions first, pick out a key word, such as a name, and then scan the article, looking for that name. When you find that name, you just might find the answer to your question at the same time.

I hope these techniques will help you with your reading. Give it a try next time you are faced with a long article for class. You might even scan the article first, just to answer the questions in the textbook, then skim the article, just to gain a little more understanding of the meaning then go back and try to pick up the words you missed the first time around.

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