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Reading Comprehension: Skimming & Scanning - How to Read - How to Learn

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Reading Comprehension Exercises – Skimming and Scanning, by michelle
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Learning to read in the two following ways is important. Here are some hints and tips to help you succeed when you face reading comprehension exercises to be done with a time limit.

Time yourself in every step and keep a record of your marks, so you notice your progress.

The more times you read a text, the more you understand. Just think of your Spanish while reading difficult texts. The Onion Approach is fundamental. You need to read your text a minimum of three times, and in different ways, focusing on different things, as explained below.

There are two types of questions in Reading Comprehension exercises: one type are the Skimming Questions. They test your general understanding of the text, e.g. what the topic is, what the main ideas are, what the point is in this or that part or the whole text... You cannot answer these questions correctly if you skip Steps 1 and 2 below, unless the text is really easy for you. The other type are the Scanning Questions. These don't require general understanding. They require that you find the specific information you are asked about, e.g. a specific amount, a specific word...

Although in the exam you may decide to skip some parts of this technique, please follow all the steps for the time being, till you get enough practice, till you are good at this technique. The more difficult the text is, the more useful the technique is. But to master the technique, you need to use it also with texts you find easy to understand.

Step 1: Where we are
Skim (read fast) the title, the instructions and the comprehension questions trying to underline (really fast) key words. You'll finish this underlining/comprehension activity in Step 3.

Step 2: Skimming
Skim the text (for, say, 750 words, it should take you about 3 minutes - you can only achieve this mark if you practice a lot, so remember it is a process, and write down your marks so you can notice your progress). In your skimming you should identify:

point the kind of text (different texts organize information differently, e.g. a news item has the important information at the beginning, in an essay you can find it in every topic sentence at the beginning of paragraphs, and if we know about that, we can be quicker finding the info we need)
point the topic
point and the approach or the main thesis.

If you can identify other things, ie understand more, great. But remember to notice what is mentioned above.

Some Tips to Skim Well!
Skimming the written text is like jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone! You don’t have to read all the words, for instance, in examples or the chunks you know are developing ideas which have been mentioned in the topic sentence. You should pay more attention to the initial and ending sentences in the text and in the paragraphs, because those sentences usually tell you what the topic in the paragraph is. You should pay more attention to what look like key words, e.g. words that belong to the same world (semantic field) as the topic. The title and the intro will be important to notice because they give you the topic and the tone. They are relevant to get the general idea. The ending too, but the text might not be complete, so we cannot always count on this (notice it!). Then if it’s a kind of essay or article, there will be topic sentences (what the paragraph is about) at the beginning of paragraphs and at the end a kind of concluding sentence or introduction to the next point in the next paragraph. (For more on opening sentences, topic sentences and closing sentences, check out the Writing section at Talking People).

Step 3: the Questions
Have another quick look at your questions. A quick and careful look, and if they are difficult to understand, take your time, make it less quick, but as careful! Underline key words, so that when your eyes jump from the text to the questions, it'll be easier for them to find the place they need to stop at! If you have questions with options and the options seem to be all true, work out where the contrast is, because you need to chose the most appropriate option.

Step 4: First Scanning – To work!
Read slowly, carefully. Take your time. With practice, you'll gain speed even if you don't intend too. (Remember to jot down the time each process takes you). Be aware of which chunks you understand well and which seem to be difficult. Read them all carefully, trying to understand, but don’t spend your whole life on the difficult ones, because you’ll go back to them in your second scanning. (That’s why we do a second scanning.) Answer the easy questions. Re-read carefully the others, thinking about the whole text if necessary (sometimes going back to the whole picture helps us realize what we need to look for).

Some Tips!
Underline with short lines, or if you are not too sure, just mark with a dot on the margin, the area where you think some answers might be (First Scanning). You can also write the number of whichever question on the margin in the area you think the answer may be, before underlining the answer in the text. This "light highlighting" will save you time later on. You can also underline key words/points, but not complete sentences, in case that is not the answer and later you get all mixed up about it!

Step 5: Second Scanning – Think over the parts you didn’t understand
In the second scanning (and third, fourth… if you’re practicing), you should try to solve the hardest parts and answer those questions. Keep in mind something: re-reading the easy parts (much more quickly than the hard parts) may be necessary because those ideas may help us to understand the difficult parts. Trust me on this!

Step 6: Check Your Answers (and copy them on the appropriate space, if appropriate)
You have to be quick. Read again your answers, including the easy ones, to check everything is OK. In our tests, you usually get 1 minute to copy your answers in the appropriate space for answers.

And remember, you cannot be good at something without training (practice). It's not enough to understand things, or to "know them". You have to be good at putting them into practice!