Retrieving Information Quickly: Skimming & Scanning

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Learn how to speed read to improve your test-taking skills! In this lesson you will practice skimming and scanning in short reading passages and discover strategies to improve comprehension and retention.

Reading Strategies

While practicing for the reading section of an exam, you should be aware of your time limitations. Timed tests bracket each section, giving you anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to read a passage and answer questions related to its content. To use your time wisely, let's take a look at some strategies you can use to maximize your time.

Skimming and Scanning

The first thing to remember when sitting down to take a test is that time management will be key to your success. When presented with lengthy passages, you may not have time to read every word. That's where skimming and scanning come in. Skimming and scanning reading passages enables you to quickly retrieve information from text. A normal reading rate is around 200 words-per-minute. Practiced skimmers can read over 700 words-per-minute.

Before you begin, don't be afraid to go ahead and peek at the question(s) below the reading passage. The question might indicate relevant keywords, ideas, or phrases that you will encounter in the reading passage.

First, skim a passage to get a bird's-eye-view of its topic. Quickly review the text for the main idea. Pay attention to the title and headings. Read the first and last sentence of every paragraph. In order to gain context for the material, ask these 4 questions: Why? What? When? Where?

Next, go back and scan the passage to identify important information, keywords, and details. When scanning, you don't need to read every word. Pay attention to words that occur more than once. Bold and italicized words will also pop out. Other important information takes the form of dates, places, proper names, and technical terms.

Finally, return to the passage for a second skim. This way, you can connect the keywords and details from scanning with the general ideas you garnered in the first step.

To sum up, skimming is for preview and review. Scan to discover the details.

Observing the Sky in Fraknoi, Morrison, and Wolff, Astronomy (2016).

The Birth of Modern Astronomy: Copernicus

''One of the most important events of the Renaissance was the displacement of Earth from the center of the universe, an intellectual revolution initiated by a Polish cleric in the sixteenth century. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was born in Torun, Poland, a mercantile town along the Vistula River. His training was in law and medicine, but his main interests were astronomy and mathematics. His great contribution to science was a critical reappraisal of the existing theories of planetary motion and the development of a new Sun-centered, or heliocentric, model of the solar system. Copernicus concluded that Earth is a planet and that all the planets circle the Sun. Only the Moon orbits Earth.''

Model by Nicolaus Copernicus
Copernican system

''Copernicus began with several assumptions that were common in his time, such as the idea that the motions of the heavenly bodies must be made up of combinations of uniform circular motions. But he did not assume (as most people did) that Earth had to be in the center of the universe, and he presented a defense of the heliocentric system that was elegant and persuasive.''

''Copernicus argued that the apparent motion of the Sun about Earth during the course of a year could be represented equally well by a motion of Earth about the Sun. He also reasoned that the apparent rotation of the celestial sphere could be explained by assuming that Earth rotates while the celestial sphere is stationary. To the objection that if Earth rotated about an axis it would fly into pieces, Copernicus answered that if such motion would tear Earth apart, the still faster motion of the much larger celestial sphere required by the geocentric hypothesis would be even more devastating.''


1. ''Copernicus' great contribution to science was a critical reappraisal of the existing theories of planetary motion. He developed a new Sun-centered, or _____, model of the solar system; _____ is a planet and that all the planets circle the _____.''

  • Blank1: Heliocentrism
  • Blank 2: Earth
  • Blank 3: Sun

2. What key concept is represented in the chart, 'model by Nicolaus Copernicus', above?

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