In IELTS and Cambridge exams, you are required to read several texts of considerable total length. This can be a daunting task for students and you may feel that you don’t have time to read everything.
You’ve probably heard the terms skim reading and scan reading and are probably aware that these skills are important when answering questions on a text. But what is skim reading? Is it just reading quickly or trying to find specific words in a text?
How to effectively skim read
Skim reading is a tactical approach to reading. It is not about reading quickly and hoping your brain absorbs some of the information. It is about using your knowledge of how English texts are composed to locate the relevant information in the text.
Headings and sub-headings
Use the heading to try to identify the theme of the text. Before you continue reading, try to predict what the text is about and think about what you already know about the topic. This isn’t something that you need to spend long doing but you will find that you will remember more of the text if you try to engage with it by building your personal interest. You know from reading in your own language that you remember more of a text that you are interested in than one that you are not. In a reading exam, try to build your interest in the topic by reading the heading, subheading and, if necessary, the opening paragraph before stopping for a few seconds to consider how the theme relates to things you already know and are interested in.
Tactically approaching each paragraph
Next, you should skim read the text. Your aim here is to identify how the text is organised and what the main points of each paragraph are. This is skim reading but you can save time and effort by approaching the text in a strategic way. Paragraph structure is important in English and understanding where to expect to find the relevant information in each paragraph is simple once you understand how the paragraph works.
Most, if not all, paragraphs contain an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence. These sentences will introduce the content of the paragraph and usually conclude with a sentence which can demonstrate the author’s view or concisely summarise the paragraph. Knowing this, the meaning of each paragraph can almost always be understood from reading the first and last sentences, as demonstrated in the paragraph you are reading right now.
What to do next
Once you have finished skim reading the text, you should now read the questions. You should find that you will be able to answer many of the questions already and those that you cannot answer, you should be able to use your existing knowledge of the topic of each paragraph in order to quickly locate the information you need to answer the question. Your skim reading of each paragraph will have provided you with a mental map of the text structure and information flow.
Remember to do the following:
- Read the heading and subheadings if there are any
- Predict the kind of thing you will be reading about and try to generate an interest in the text based on what you may already know of the subject
- Skim read the article paying particular attention to the first and last sentences of each paragraph
- Read the questions and answer those that you can. For those you are unsure on, use your knowledge of the subject of each paragraph to quickly locate the information you need
For more information on exam technique, or to find out how Desktop English can help you pass an exam, please get in touch with us. As always, feel free to leave a comment below if you have anything to add to this post about skim reading.