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Basics of Skimming and Scanning

Posted by Daniel Tran on 2/5/2016

When studying, it’s not recommended that you read the textbook straight from the first page to the last. There’s just too much information, you’ll tire yourself out, and the worst part is that in most cases, you don’t need everything the textbook has to offer. That’s not to say the textbook isn’t helpful, but what you need to do is pick out the important points and remember those. So, what is skimming and scanning? Is there a difference? Skimming is quickly reading a piece of text to gain a general idea of what the information is about. This is used to summarise the main idea from large text blocks, or to determine if a paragraph is with reading into.

Scanning is reading a piece of text to find a specific piece of information, and is more used to find facts about a certain topic. Both techniques sound easy to do at face value, but it’s how you prepare to do these skills that will affect your skimming and scanning success. First, make sure you know what you’re expecting. Read the table of contents for the chapter, as well as any important headings and keywords. At this point, you can already start deciding which aspects you might avoid and where your attention might be needed more. When browsing through

First, make sure you know what you’re expecting. Read the table of contents for the chapter, as well as any important headings and keywords. At this point, you can already start deciding which aspects you might avoid and where your attention might be needed more.

When browsing through material, look out for core keywords. These might be emphasised words on the page, or terms you find to be important. These will usually help you locate helpful sentences of information about that specific keyword. You might also look out for listed items or information boxes on the sides of the page.

Furthermore, you may find it helpful to take notes while you skim and scan. There’s not much point to reading through a textbook if little can be recalled. This also helps you remember the information better, since you have your own summary sheet to refer back to.

While these techniques to save time and effort in reading text, most textbooks usually have chapter summaries that already encapsulate the main ideas. So why not just use those? The problem with any summarisation technique, including skimming and scanning, is that they lack details. You’ll get the basic idea, but that’s more or less all you’ll get. Or maybe the summary doesn’t mention an idea that is crucial to your studies.

What you can do instead is to combine skimming and scanning with the text summaries your textbook provides. In this way, if you can use the textbook summary to fill in any gaps you missed when skimming and scanning, as well as pick up any details you might find important while reading through the textbook information.

While there’s much more to skimming and scanning, these basic tips should help you get an idea about how you might go about using these techniques. Perhaps as you practise skimming and scanning, you could apply these skills outside the context of study and become a more efficient reader in general.

 

Author: Daniel Tran

Daniel Tran

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