Skimming Strategies for High School and University Students

Some of the pages with cut-outs
You don’t have to read every word to get the “main idea” (Photo credit: skylitup)

Whether you are trying to read an article quickly before a class, pre-reading a text to understand its main points, or practising for the SATs, learning how to properly skim an article is a very useful skill to have. Try different skimming strategies before you find which combination works for you.

Strategy #1: Introductions and Conclusions

If an article has been written well, the first paragraph will introduce the main idea, and the last paragraph will summarize the main points. Similarly, the first and last sentence in a paragraph should summarize its main idea. To get an overall “feel” for the main points of an article, read the first paragraph, the last paragraph, and the first sentences in each “body” paragraph. If you have slightly more time for details, consider…

Strategy #2: Reading Key Ideas, Leaving Out the Extras

This still leaves out some information, but gives a slightly more detailed picture of a chapter or article. Academic articles often include many phrases that add extra detail to a sentence, or give extra information that is not necessarily important. Consider this example:

Dr. Nyugen, a neuro-scientist studying the effects of inter-transmitted radial waves at the University of Smithville, suggests that….

Once you see a comma after a name, and a lot of extra detail describing the person, you can usually skip over their “credentials” to what they actually have to say. The same strategy can be used for skipping over additional details to an idea. Consider:

Cats like to chase small animals, such as mice, flies, ants, other insects, and even birds.

If you are just reading to get the main ideas, skip to the next sentence after you’ve understood the main point (cats like to chase small animals). Both of these strategies can be used with…

Strategy #3: Looking at Text Features

In a non-fiction text, looking at the table of contents, chapter titles, headings, sub-headings, diagrams, pictures, and captions can also help to capture a quick overview of key facts in the chapter or article.

While there is no substitution for the comprehension gained from reading every word, a good skimming technique should allow you to read about 3 or 4 times faster than a thorough reading, and leave you with an overall impression of the author’s main ideas and points.

To learn more about reading comprehension and studying strategies, contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space (416) 925-1225 or visit our website:



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