Beat the Test.

July 22, 2007

Skimming and Scanning

Filed under: Uncategorized — beatthetest @ 1:58 pm

“Reading Section” isn’t a very good name. Are you really supposed to read that entire 700-word passage?

Not at all! In fact, if you did, you would probably run out of time. You only have 20 minutes for both the article and the 12-14 questions that follow.

So if you don’t read, what do you do? Just look at the questions first to save time? Not quite. It’ll be easier and faster to get the answers right if you know a little bit about the passage first. The best way to attack the iBT reading is through the 2-part process of skimming and scanning.

PART 1: SKIMMING The first thing you do when you get to the first reading is to skim it – look quickly through it for the main idea and organization.

  • Skimming should take about 3 minutes or less.
  • First look at the title to see the main topic of the passage
  • Also look at the picture on the screen for any info it may give you.
  • Next look at the important areas of the passage for the main idea:
    • The introduction (first sentence of the first paragraph)
    • The thesis (last sentence of first paragraph)
    • Topic sentences (the first line of each body paragraph)
    • The conclusion (first and last sentences of final paragraph)
  • On your note paper, make a very rough outline that summarizes the main idea of each paragraph in a few words. Do not spend too much time on this – you’re just trying to feel the basic idea behind the reading.
  • When skimming, also watch out for transition words that change the direction of the paragraph, such as however, on the other hand, still, despite, whereas, although, etc. If you just read the topic sentence, and miss these words, you might miss the main idea.
  • Keep your eye out for major examples as well. Knowing where they are will make answering the questions much quicker.
  • When you are done skimming, hopefully you will see the main idea, the main details, and the organization of the essay (chronological, comparison/contrast, cause and effect, etc). If you don’t see everything, though, don’t worry – just continue with the questions after about 3 minutes.
  • It’s important to understand that you possibly won’t understand a large part of the reading after skimming. That’s no problem. To get a perfect score you do not need to understand the passage very clearly. You just need to be deadly fast at hunting for specific information.


After you finish skimming, you immediately begin scanning – quickly hunting through the passage to find answers to the questions.

  • First, choose a key word or two from the question to scan for in the passage.
    • It should take you no longer than a few seconds to locate it.
    • Very often these key words will not be there, but their synonyms will – make sure your vocabulary is strong enough for you to recognize them.
  • When you have found these key words, carefully read that full sentence to look for the answer to the question.
    • For some questions, you may have to read 1 or 2 sentences before or after the key words
    • The information that you read should give you enough information to either find the right answer, or at least eliminate wrong answer choices.
  • Continue solving all 12-14 questions this way.
  • Your outlining that you did when skimming should help you to scan for information faster, as it will have given you understanding of the passage’s structure.


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