Skim Before Reading: Do It Better, Boost Test Scores
The idea to skim before reading is one that has picked up popularity in recent years for the amount of preparation and understanding that it brings. Even if you don’t read every single word, you can learn to do it faster and improve your overall reading skills. If you’re on the fence with speed-reading, then hopefully what we’ll share here today helps in some small way.
First, How Do You Do It?
We’re not sure who came up with the idea to skim before reading. It seems like it’s always been a part of our culture, though it probably rose to prevalence in the Internet generation, for our need to be instantly gratified. While instant gratification can seem a little poisonous, it becomes a necessity the further up the college ranks you go, when the reading assignments get too much to handle.
To do this effectively, you should consider finding a guide of some kind to help your eyes move down the page instead of side to side. You may want to use three fingers from one hand — whichever fingers are comfortable — or a small ruler. From there, line it up at the center of the page and try to look at groups of words instead of individuals.
Secondly, Use Technology.
Around the first of the year, I became obsessed with finding the perfect speed-reading application. After trying a number of them, I finally settled on the paid app Outread. You don’t have to stick with this one, but I liked it because it integrated with my Pocket account, so I could instantly save helpful articles on mobile for later consumption.
Once you’re inside the app, it will automatically refresh from Pocket. Then, you just have to click on the link, hit play, and try to keep up. If you can’t, just go into the Settings area and lower your words per minute. Not only does this baby read from the Internet, but it also allows you to upload eBooks and documents for later.
We recommend keeping it at about 300 words per minute. Even if you can’t quite cut it, it’ll help you skim before reading, and when you do finally switch back to the beginning, you’ll find your overall speed and comprehension has gone up significantly.
Remember that it still takes time to read and comprehend even when you’re skimming or speed-reading. Don’t wait until the last minute to tackle all that text that you have to cover just because you’re feeling more confident in your own abilities. That’s not how skimming works.
Think of it like you’re building a house. When you lay the foundation, there is still quite a bit of house left to go, but you have the area to support the rest of the details. Let skimming offer some foundation. Then, start at the beginning and reread the passage looking for more details to flesh things out.
It may sound like you’re taking twice as long than if you were to just start at the beginning and read until the end, but it really doesn’t. Your mind does something wonderful once the “real reading” actually begins. It takes over and remembers questions about what you might not have understood the first time through. Along with the bits and pieces of understanding that you illustrated during the skim phase, this enables you to better internalize the information because you’re not just trying to get to the end; you’re taking an active role in what is being said.
But, How Does It Boost Test Scores?
Well, clearly a lot depends on you and your level of involvement, as well as access to reading materials, environment, and distractions. Obviously, if you have a lot of classic literature to read for a test, you can cover ground pretty quickly using an app. The best case scenario is when you’re going over one chapter at a time. Using the first method, you can simply use the book to skim before reading. Using the speed-reading application, you would first have to convert the pages of your book to where they were treated as text and not images.
If you’re thinking, “Ooh, headache,” then you’re right. It is. That’s why we recommend you learn how to skim before reading the new-fashioned way. There are a lot of great materials out there that can help you online, but when you have to use print materials, it pays to not be upended by the limitations of your smartphone.
Clearly, getting good at this can enhance your test scores because — at least as far as standardized exams are concerned — there is always a reading passage or 40 that you have to work through no matter which portion of the exam you’re on. ACT test takers are one of the many groups aware of this, as they have to read prepared passages and answer questions on science, math, English, and, of course, reading, all set to a rather stingily timed session.
If working under pressure is hard for you, then getting started ahead of time and using all the tools at your disposal will better prepare you for test day.
Homework, tests — it doesn’t matter. In life, you will need to be a good reader in order to get the education and skills necessary to be successful. But reading large walls of text can be intimidating, and too many schools out there aren’t adequately teaching this technique to their students.
By utilizing props, making the most of technology, and being versatile in how you employ the skim before reading technique, you’ll be well on your way to a deeper understanding of study materials.
[Image via Bookdout]