Skimming: A Reading Comprehension Tool

This is reading that happens at a fast pace and is often used when trying to derive general ideas as to what a passage is about. Skimming is a reading method in which you concentrate on the main ideas of the content. When skimming,  skip content that gives details,  stories and other fluff. Instead of reading every word, concentrate on the essential information. Skimming is reading the essence of the author’s messages rather than the details.

Why Skim?

You need the big picture or main points when you’re reading. Skimming as a type of previewing and can help you comprehend what you read. Knowing how to skim should help you become an efficient, strategic reader. You’ll become better at deciding what parts of the content are most essential. There might be times when your teacher wants you to comprehend the big picture, not the minutia. Skimming helps you comprehend the main points of the content and its relevance to your course.

Maximize your time. With skimming, you’ll be able to cover large amounts of content more rapidly and save yourself a lot of time. Maybe you don’t have time to complete your reading prior to class, but skimming should help you get the central points and attend class prepared to maximize in-class learning.

Skimming is an efficient way to refresh your memory of huge amounts of content before an exam. Skimming the content that you have read before helps you remember the material.

What Skimming Is Not

Skimming can cause issues if not carried out correctly. Skimming is not flipping through the content rapidly. When skimming, be intentional with what you select to read, and make sure that you are focused. Skimming is not a half-hearted attempt at reading. Make sure that you use it strategically and are able to walk away with the central ideas of the content.

Skimming Methods

Beginnings & endings: Read initial and final sentences of paragraphs, initial and final paragraphs of important sections, and introductions and summaries of chapters.

Visual & verbal cues: Look for signal words and phrases that show an author’s direction (e.g., however, although, moreover, in addition to).

Wheat vs. chaff: Read enough of content to decide if a section presents a central idea or support for a central idea.

Here are a few items that you should concentrate on when skimming:

  • Introduction and conclusion
  • Chapter summaries
  • Initial and final sentences
  • Titles, subtitles, and headings
  • Bold words and phrases
  • Charts, graphs, or images
  • End of chapter questions

When to Skim

There is some content that lends itself to skimming better than others. It is less beneficial to skim novels, poetry, and short stories or texts that do not have text features like tables of content, chapter summaries, headings, bold words, images, and diagrams. Nonfiction texts, like textbooks  and essays, are full of these types of content features and are suited for skimming.

Skimming can also be a tool for carrying out research and writing essays. When researching or writing, you won’t have to read each word closely but should benefit more from skimming while assessing your sources or identifying info essential to your work.

Lastly, know your context. There may be some content that you are better off reading thoroughly. Most professors tell you that they include details from the textbook and their lectures on assessments. You might have some classes that are just challenging to master, and you may find that reading thoroughly helps you comprehend ideas better. Prior to skimming, spend some time thinking about your classes, professors, and needs to decide if you have any content you may need to read more closely.

Active Reading Strategies

When skimming, it’s essential to continue to use active reading strategies. This keeps your brain focused and helps you comprehend and retain info better and longer. Here are some active reading strategies to pair with skimming:

Set a purpose for reading. Instead of approaching the content as something you just have to get through, find a purpose for it. What do you want to get out of it? Why are you reading it?

Preview. Look through the content before starting to concentrate on headings, illustrations, and end of chapter summaries. These elements give you an idea of the main ideas of the content and what you should concentrate on while skimming.

Make up a prediction. After previewing, make a prediction regarding what you believe the chapter or section will be about.

Activate prior knowledge. Make a list of what you know about the topic and what you want to know about it. Find and jot down any questions you have.

Summarize the main ideas. After a page or section, pause and write a 1-3 sentence summary. This keeps your brain engaged on what you are reading.

Generate questions. Ask and jot down questions that you have as you read the content and questions that you would want to ask a class if you were the teacher.

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