How to Skim Read

Now that we know a bit about the reading test, we can look at techniques to speed up our reading!

 

A Common Problem

In the IELTS Reading Test there is very limited time. Many candidates find that they cannot answer all forty questions in just one hour. Many candidates do not even have time to read the third text because they read too slowly.
Skimming and scanning are two techniques which will help you to read faster. These two techniques will not just help you to achieve success in the IELTS test, but also help you to read more effectively when you get to university in an English speaking country. Practice these skills before the test and you will see your scores improving.

Skimming

When you skim a text you go over it very fast in order to get the general topic, argument and purpose of the text (this is called the gist). When you skim, you do not need to read everything and the details in the text are not important.

In the IELTS test, you must understand the gist of a whole text in order to answer certain types of question. It is also a good idea to understand the gist of each section of the text or paragraph in the text as this will help you to locate specific answer for questions.

How to Skim Read

Don’t read every single word, just try and get the overall meaning and purpose of the text. This is called the gist of the text.

  • Read the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. The introduction should tell you the topic of the text and its purpose (why the author wrote it). The conclusion is likely to summarise the main ideas in the text and, again, tell you the topic and purpose of the text. Read fast, don’t read small grammar words, focus on the nouns in each sentence. If you do not understand a word move on, don’t focus too much on individual words, remember, the general topic and ideas are more important when you are skimming.

 

  • Pay attention to the first sentence and last sentence of each paragraph. The first sentence is usually a topic sentence and it will give you a general idea of the content of the paragraph. The final sentence is often a concluding sentence that often sums up the main idea of the paragraph. After the topic sentence, only look for important bits of information such as dates, names or events.

Exercise 1

Skim the first and last paragraphs of the text below in order to get the gist. Select the topic and purpose of the text from the options which follow. Use the timer to see if you can complete this task in under 1:30. 

00:00:00

As yacht racing became more common, and yacht design more diverse, it was necessary to create systems of measurements and time allowances due to the differences in boat design. Longer yachts are faster than shorter ones; therefore, to be fair, in the 1820s a system of time allowance was introduced on certain races. Larger yachts were handicapped, meaning that they had to finish faster than shorter yachts in order to achieve the same time. However, owners with the biggest boats had a problem with the allowance system because they preferred crossing the finish line first, in the same way that a runner who finishes the race first is the winner, as a method of finding the winner in a race. As a result, both ‘ratings’ and ‘one-design’ competitions were developed.

Ratings systems rely upon analysis of usually very specific yacht-design parameters such as length, sail area and shape. During the 1920s and through until the 1970s the Cruising Club of America used a formula by which most racing/cruising boats were designed during that period. After its descendant, the mathematically complex International Offshore Rule (IOR) of the 1970s, contributed to much decreased seaworthiness (and even speed), the simpler Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) system was adopted. The PHRF uses only performance characteristics, such as sailing speed, as a means to allow yachts that are different in design—typically crewed by friends and families at clubs rather than by professional crews—to race together. Most popular family-oriented cruising sailboats will have a rating filed with a local chapter of the PHRF.

‘One-design’ racing was invented by Thomas Middleton in 1886 in Killiney Bay close to Dublin in Ireland. Middleton noticed that the cost and quality of a yacht was more important than the quality of the crew who sailed it. One design yacht racing is conducted with classes of similar boats, all built—often via mass-production—to the same design, with the same sail area and rig, and the same number of crew, so that crew ability and tactical expertise are more likely to decide a race than boat type, or age, or even weather. Popular racing boats such as The Water Wag, Laser, the J/22 and J/24, the Etchells, and the Star and New York 30 of Nathanael Herreshoff are examples of one-design boats.

In general, modern yacht-racing contests are conducted according to the Racing Rules of Sailing, first established in 1928. Though complex, the RRS are intended primarily simply ensure fairness and safety. The Rules are revised and updated every four years by the body now known as World Sailing.

What is the main topic and purpose of the text?
a) To evaluate why some yachts are more successful in races than others.
b) To analyse the causes and effects of yachts becoming bigger and faster over the last century.
c) To describe the development of systems intended to make yacht racing fairer.
d) To describe the history of yacht racing in the USA and Ireland.



Exercise 2

Each paragraph has a different main topic or purpose in the text. Skim read each paragraph, focus on the introduction and conclusion sentences, and decide what is the main topic of each paragraph.

00:00:00

1.
As yacht racing became more common, and yacht design more diverse, it was necessary to create systems of measurements and time allowances due to the differences in boat design. Longer yachts are faster than shorter ones; therefore, to be fair, in the 1820s a system of time allowance was introduced on certain races. Larger yachts were handicapped, meaning that they had to finish faster than shorter yachts in order to achieve the same time. However, owners with the biggest boats had a problem with the allowance system because they preferred crossing the finish line first, in the same way that a runner who finishes the race first is the winner, as a method of finding the winner in a race. As a result, both ‘ratings’ and ‘one-design’ competitions were developed.
2.
Ratings systems rely upon analysis of usually very specific yacht-design parameters such as length, sail area and shape. During the 1920s and through until the 1970s the Cruising Club of America used a formula by which most racing/cruising boats were designed during that period. After its descendant, the mathematically complex International Offshore Rule (IOR) of the 1970s, contributed to much decreased seaworthiness (and even speed), the simpler Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) system was adopted. The PHRF uses only performance characteristics, such as sailing speed, as a means to allow yachts that are different in design—typically crewed by friends and families at clubs rather than by professional crews—to race together. Most popular family-oriented cruising sailboats will have a rating filed with a local chapter of the PHRF.
3.
‘One-design’ racing was invented by Thomas Middleton in 1886 in Killiney Bay close to Dublin in Ireland. Middleton noticed that the cost and quality of a yacht was more important than the quality of the crew who sailed it. One design yacht racing is conducted with classes of similar boats, all built—often via mass-production—to the same design, with the same sail area and rig, and the same number of crew, so that crew ability and tactical expertise are more likely to decide a race than boat type, or age, or even weather. Popular racing boats such as The Water Wag, Laser, the J/22 and J/24, the Etchells, and the Star and New York 30 of Nathanael Herreshoff are examples of one-design boats.
4.
In general, modern yacht-racing contests are conducted according to the Racing Rules of Sailing, first established in 1928. Though complex, the RRS are intended primarily simply ensure fairness and safety. The Rules are revised and updated every four years by the body now known as World Sailing.



A Second Skim Reading Technique

Focusing on certain types of words can help you to understand the topic of a text or paragraph.

  • In order to understand the topic of a text, look for families of vocabulary. For example, you quickly skim a paragraph and see the words and phrases: medicine, cure, doctor, preventative treatment, and pharmacology. These words and phrases allow you to guess that the topic of the text is health and medicine. You can guess more specifically that it is about preventing certain types of medical problems. Notice that all of the words above are nouns or phrases containing nouns. When you skim a text, ignore other words and focus mostly on the nouns as they are usually the most important content words.

Exercise 3

Nouns (naming words) are really useful to learn the gist of a text. Look at the following groups of words. They are taken from paragraphs of a topic that you have not read yet. Use the word lists to help you guess the topic of each paragraph. Then read the paragraph itself.

Paragraph 1:

Revenues / expenses / government / taxes / government expenses / government consumption/ goods and services / economists / infrastructure investments / retirement benefits / capital expenditure

What is the topic of the paragraph?
Government Staff
Government Budgets
Diplomacy between Countries
Government Problems



The Full Paragraph

The two basic elements of any budget are the revenues and expenses. In the case of the government, revenues are derived primarily from taxes. Government expenses include spending on current goods and services, which economists call government consumption; government investment expenditures such as infrastructure investment or research expenditure; and transfer payments like unemployment or retirement benefits. There is another way to understand element of budget. These are receipts and expenditures. Receipts are of two types , revenue receipt and capital receipt. Same way expenditures are of two natures: Revenue and capital expenditure. 

Paragraph 2:

Oil barrel / oil fields / oil well / petroleum products / oil production / 42-US-gallon barrel / 40-US-gallon barrels / 45-US-gallon barrels

What is the topic of the paragraph?
Different ways of getting oil from under the ground
Different ways of transporting oil
The size of oil barrels
The cost of oil and products made from oil



The Full Paragraph

The measurement of an “oil barrel” originated in the early Pennsylvania oil fields. The Drake Well, the first oil well in the US, was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, and an oil boom followed in the 1860s. When oil production began, there was no standard container for oil, so oil and petroleum products were stored and transported in barrels of different shapes and sizes. Some of these barrels would originally have been used for other products, such as beer, fish, molasses or turpentine. Both the 42-US-gallon barrels (based on the old English wine measure), the tierce (159 litres) and the 40-US-gallon barrels were used. Also, 45-US-gallon (170 l) barrels were in common use. The 40-gallon whiskey barrel was the most common size used by early oil producers, since they were readily available at the time.

Skimming helps us learn the general meaning (gist) of a text very quickly. But what if we want to understand detailed information within a text? That is what we will study next.