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Skimming and Scanning





Skimming and scanning are two important skills that we need to learn in order to understand and get the information from a passage in a short time. Hence, I did some research to find out correct ways to skim and scan. Here is the note that I obtained from a reference book that is Study Skills for the Malaysian University English Test, 2000



Text Box: Skimming involves glancing through material to get the general idea of the material.



This passage contains some parts written in bold. Read only the parts in bold.


Survival Course for Airmen

Air Force pilots must sometimes make crash landings in areas where there are no towns for miles. Because of this, the Air Force has a school, which teaches airmen how to survive.


            Survival courses for airmen are given at a school in California. Air Force pilots who have had experience in surviving in different parts of the world show the airmen what they have to do to survive. Then the airmen go on field trips, where they try to practise what they have learnt.


            The airmen take some supplies with them on the field trip. They take a little food, like ten grammes of special breakfast cereals, six lumps of sugar, onion powder, salt and pepper, packages of tea and coffee, and fruitcake. They also take knives, sleeping bags, parachutes, compasses, and needles and thread. All these things will be in the plane they will fly.


            The airmen are taken in a truck to a wild area in the mountains that has only rough paths. It may be one or two hundred miles from a town or farm. Then the truck leaves and the airmen must live for several days on just the food they have and whatever they can find.


            The first thing the men usually do on the field trip is to build a shelter. They can make a tent out of a parachute. To make one of these tents, the men first cut long, thick branches from trees. Then they trim the tips of the branches so that they can be pushed into the ground. The branches are arranged in a circle with all the top ends meeting. The airmen drape the parachute around the frame of branches and tie it at the top. The bottom of the parachute is fastened to small pieces of wood that have been pushed into the ground. A second parachute is placed around the bottom of the tent to keep out the cold winds.


            The airmen also learn to make ‘sunglasses’ from willow bark to protect their eyes from the wind, sun, sand and dust storms, and snow glare. They use willow bark because this kind of bark is softer than other kinds of bark. They cut it so that it fits across the eyes. Then they cut narrow slits that are large enough to see through but small enough to keep out most of the light.


            Another thing the airmen must learn is how to find water when there is no stream or lake nearby. While people can live without food for several weeks, they can live without water only for a few days. The airmen learn how to melt snow, to get water out of certain plants by squeezing them between rocks, and to find water by digging in a dry riverbed.


            If they are near a steam or lake, the airmen must be able to fish without ordinary fishing poles. They learn to make poles from branches, hooks from old pieces of metal, and lines from parachute cords. They also learn how to catch fish with their hands.


            To catch animals, the airmen learn how to make traps. One kind of trap they make is for large animals like deer. Logs are tied so that they hand over an animal trail. When an animal trips over a cord attached to the hanging logs, the logs fall on top of the animal and kill it.


            The airmen must also know how to signal for help. In order to send smoke signals they learn to start a fire without matches, to start a fire in the snow, and to start a fire with damp logs.


            The lessons that these Air Force pilots learn can keep them alive for more than a month, whether they have to bail out in the jungle or in the mountains.


                                                                                         (Taken from “Study Skills for MUET”, 2000)



According to the “Study Skills for MUET, 2000, by just reading the bold sections, I was able to get a quick idea of some of the central thoughts or main points covered in the passage. This reading technique that I used is called as skimming. Skimming helps us to do the following:

Ø      Get a quick general overview of the topic, main idea, theme, or subject of the passage.

Ø      Identify the writer’s purpose.

Ø      Shorten the reading time.


How to skim?

To skim a passage effectively, we must:

Ø      look for the main ideas and ignore all supporting details. Main ideas are usually expressed in topic sentences, which often occur at the beginning or, less often, at the end of a paragraph.

Ø      read the title.

Ø      read the introduction.

Ø      read the first sentence of every paragraph.

Ø      read the last sentence of every paragraph.

Ø      read any heading and subheadings.

Ø      study any pictures, graphs, tables, charts, etc.

Ø      glance at the entire passage and pay special attention to any italicised, boldface words or phrases. These are usually key words or terms used in the passage.

Ø      read the last paragraph.

Ø      look out for definitions

Ø      locate transition signals. (e.g. firstly, secondly, finally, one major cause, another cause, etc.)

Ø      look for unusual or striking features of the passage. You may notice a series of dates, capitalized words, or numbers.






Basically, these are the steps that we use to skim a passage. In order to further enhance my proficiency in this skill, I am going to give an example by showing the ways. The passage is taken from Tapestry: Reading 1,2000.



Going, Going, Gone

            Earth’s animals are disappearing faster than they reproduce. Because there is too little research and too much ignorance, no one is aware of how much we are losing.


            Many different kinds of plants and animals are becoming extinct. Every year, one-half of one percent of the living things in the tropical rain forests become extinct. Some disappear before they are found and named. No one has time to study them before they are gone.


            The disappearance of species worries scientists and environmentalists. They want the U.S. Endangered Species Act of  1973 to be made stronger. This act was formed to protect endangered species. However, loggers, land developers, and factory owners disagree. They want changes that will make the act weaker. They think the act is not working. They believe it is not fait to private landowners. They want the act to consider people more. Environmentalist s worry about our disappearing resources and loggers worry about jobs.


            Environmentalists think the Endangered Species Act is an important tool. It uses law to protect animals and plants. It keeps the developers off of delicate land. It shows the cutting of old forests. And, it protects endangered species.


            Today, 740 different living things are listed as either threatened of endangered. Another 400 species are waiting to be added to the list. However, some of those 400 species have become extinct while waiting.


            Therefore, environmentalists are working to strengthen the act. At the same time, loggers, developers, and farmers are working to weaken it. They don’t want the spotted owls, grizzly bears, or wolves to be protected. The loggers think owls interfere with logging jobs. Farmers don’t want bears and wolves protected, since they attack other animals.



            But many people think the act has been effective in many ways. It has not only protected animals, but it has changed the behaviour of private and public land users.



           As the fight continues, however, almost everyone agrees that some of the numbers are bad. The rivers and streams of America are in danger. The nation’s fresh water faces large losses. The rivers and lakes were once home to many kinds of snails, mussels and clams. The freshwater mussels of North America include 247 kinds: 13 are extinct, 40 are endangered, 2 are threatened, and 74 more might become endangered.


            Some environmentalists try to appeal to businesses. They say that studying unknown plants may be a good business idea. Plants give us important materials: drugs, rubber, food, and other products come from trees and plants.


            Nature’s treasures are disappearing before we know about them. The cure for cancer or AIDS may be hiding in the rain forest. With such riches, many believe, we must save the environment to save ourselves.




Introductory paragraph usually contains the central thought of the passage.



First sentence –

topic sentence





First sentence –

 topic sentence of the paragraph.

Last sentence –

Sometimes contains important information






First sentence –

Topic sentence




First sentence –

 topic sentence of the paragraph.



One sentence from the paragraph which explains what the paragraph is about.






First sentence –

 topic sentence of the paragraph.



Topic sentence –

Sometimes the topic sentence is in the middle of paragraph






First sentence –

topic sentence of the paragraph.



Last paragraph gives a summary of the entire passage.