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Do you have problems remembering what you read?  Does it take you forever to realize what is important in your textbook?  Did you run out of time and didn’t read your assignment, but would still like to know what the chapter was about?  Learning how to skim the text may help you with all of these annoyances!

What is skimming?

Skimming is actually a finely honed technique that allows you to get an idea of what you are going to read, before you actually read it.  It is actually a good step to take before reading any text assignment, articles, mass media, etc.  We probably all understand scanning text—looking for specific words and phrases throughout articles.  In scanning, you know what you’re looking for—in skimming, you don’t.

How do you skim? 

Start by looking quickly over the key parts of your textbook.  Determine how it is organized and what the book is about.  Do this by looking at the title, front and back cover information, table of contents, introduction, index, and glossary.

When you begin each chapter, you can follow a similar strategy.  See what the title is.  Read the introduction and then proceed to the sub-headings of the chapter.  Look at the first sentences of each paragraph and examine all charts, graphs, bold or italicized words, pictures, and captions.  When you become more proficient at skimming, you can also look for dates, names of people, numbers, and key words such as thereforeuntilbecause, etc.  If there are any summaries or conclusions at the end of the chapter, pay close attention to them.  By doing this, you are able to see what you are going to learn and how it is organized, better preparing you for reading.  By reading the summary, you can see what the author decided you should know after reading his/her book.

After doing all of this, you should be able to ask (and answer) some questions.  What is the chapter/book about?  How is it organized (by time, subject, etc)?  How difficult will it be to understand?  Finally—how long will it take to read?  By doing this, you can better manage your time, and schedule the appropriate amount into your busy day.

How will skimming help me read?

If you recall your younger days of reading short stories in grade school, teachers gave you a list of questions to test your comprehension.  When you read the chapter or story, you read for specific things.  Well, here in the big leagues you have to come up with your own lists of questions.  Skimming can help you to do that, and will better prepare you to read the actual chapter or book.

After skimming, you should be able to create questions for yourself to use as you actually read the text.  Turn any of the subject headings into questions.  When you read, try to answer your questions.  Scribble any notes in the margins.  By doing this, you not only read for specific content, you are also motivating yourself to read this subject, which increases your recall capabilities.