Many students find the reading skills of skimming and scanning confusing and at times difficult. It is easy to understand why. The two words sound very similar and for some reason, people always think that skimming is scanning and scanning is skimming. Not to worry! This blog is not only going to explain what skimming and scanning is, where and why to use it but will also explain how to do it.
What is skimming?
To skim a text is to read for general meaning. That means, you quickly read over the text. You do not read every single word of the text. Focus on reading headings and subheadings. Then, read the first and last sentence of all the paragraphs. If it is a long text, take the time to read the introduction and conclusion and “skim” the rest of the paragraphs using the way described above.
What is scanning?
Scanning is not what most students think. It does not involve an actual computer scanner.
You have probably done it a million times and did not even realise you were doing it. When you look up the time for a movie, a departure gate at the airport or when you are trying to find some specific piece of information like a date, a name of a person or place- when you do these things, you are scanning. Scanning is to look for information, just like skimming but unlike the latter; it is where you find a specific pieces of information.
Why skimming and scanning is important
When given a text that you have not read before or do not know much about, you quickly need to become familiar with it, especially when you are in exams like IELTS, FCE or CAE where time management is everything. The easiest way and most effective way to become familiar is to skim and to scan.
When taking exams, for example like IELTS, you have to read long texts, often filled with complicated vocabulary as well as answer questions with not a lot of time on the clock. By applying the skills of skimming and scanning; you become not only familiar with the text but will find it easier to locate and answer the questions.
Furthermore, if you are taking a course like EAP, where you have to write a 2000 word academic essay, you will most certainly have to find resources, evaluate the worth of them in addition to assessing and analysing the information. This process can take time, something a lot of students do not have. So, to make the process easier, skimming and scanning can and should be used.
One Way to Skim a Text
Step 1: Preview words and the text itself
Step 2: Read the introduction paragraph carefully and try to predict some of the ideas and arguments of the text
Step 3: Read the first two sentences of each paragraph as well as the concluding sentence. The key ideas of the paragraphs are outlined there.
Step 4: Do not stop for unfamiliar words. Keep your eyes moving. You goal is to get a general understanding of the text NOT specific understanding of some words.
Step 5: Read the concluding paragraph
There are other ways to practice and perfect these skills. Talk to your teachers if you want to know more.