Reading Skills: Scanning Vs. Skimming

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Both speed-reading techniques, skimming and scanning, sound like they might be similar, but there are actually key differences between the two. In fact, the differences help describe scenarios when skimming is better or when scanning makes more sense. Both methods can be key for students because they help can make studying more efficient and effective.

1 Scanning 101

Scanning is a method of speed reading that allows a student to find a specific fact or piece of information from the text. The name of a character or where an event from the story took place are examples of details a student might scan to locate. Scanning is useful because it allows students to find certain pieces of data without having to read a entire piece of text, according to Anne Arundel Community College.

2 Skimming 101

Skimming is a method that allows a reader to quickly glance over text to pull out the main ideas. When a reader skims, she's getting a general idea of who the writing is about and what the key points are, without having to read each and every word. Skimming has value in the classroom because it allows students to preview what they're about to read, but it also gives them an opportunity to quickly recall what they've already read. Headings and words in bold text, such as definitions, are good places to start when skimming.

3 Appropriate Times To Scan

Taking an open-book test is one example of when scanning would be a useful reading technique for students to know. When taking the test, students can quickly scan the textbook to find the date of a battle or the name of an explorer, for example. This is also useful in helping students spell the names of countries and historical figures. Scanning is also useful if a student is hunting for the definition of a word. When writing a report, scanning allows students to find key pieces of information, such as dates, that lend value to their report.

4 Appropriate Times To Skim

Skimming can be compared to the Cliffs Notes some students rely on so they don't have to read an entire book. A student might use skimming when studying for test because it allows her to focus on the key pieces of information more quickly than if she had to read the entire piece, though skimming is more in-depth than scanning. Younger students might skim so they make predictions about a story they're going to read and older students can skim several books or articles to see if they have any value for the report they're writing or the assignment they're completing.

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.