Dec 1, 2008

How To Scan A Text

Most students find themselves drowning in the deluge of assigned readings, handouts, and other text-heavy materials that make up a regular homework load. Although this quantity has become the norm for our schools, students are too often turned off from their studies due to the sheer volume of text that they are expected to absorb.

One solution is to learn how to scan text. This is different from reading in that someone who scans effectively can save time by picking out important information and forgoing the nuances of careful reading. There can be many different levels of reading comprehension, and in order to survive a tsunami-sized workload, it’s important to develop text-scanning skills.

When trying to save time while reading, you should first prioritize information. The more that you must concentrate on and absorb, the longer it will take to you to complete a text. The first question you should ask yourself is: how important is this reading? Let’s say you have a one-page handout that your teacher said, “Should be glanced over.” From that statement, we can gather that your teacher thought the information in the handout is important, but not the most important. This makes it a good candidate for scanning. If instead your teacher said that the information would be on an upcoming test, the handout should be given more attention. You should use your best judgment on what deserves the majority of your attention. If you’re not sure, ask your teacher.

Once you’ve prioritized your reading, it’s time scan. This means different things for the level of reading comprehension that you want to apply. If the text is of low importance, only look for the simple things (who, what, where, when, why, etc.). Organize the information you pick out, either with color-coded sticky notes, highlighters, or note-taking. Try to quickly “investigate” the text. Relate the information to what you are learning in class. Ask yourself how the reading applies to the main lesson that your teacher is presenting in the classroom. From there, quickly follow each sentence to the next and try not to stop unless you find something important or you become confused. If you are confused, slow down and back track a little. Read a bit more in-depth until you understand, then move on.

If you find yourself reading the same words over and over, or you reach a spot where you forget what you have just read, it is time to take a break. Many students will try and tackle all of their assigned reading in one sitting. This is not necessarily a great idea, as it can lead to less effective study time and more headaches later on.

Instead, take this simple analogy: if your mind was a potted plant, and information was the water, sometimes it takes a while for everything to be absorbed. Give your mind a rest when it needs one.

Once you’ve developed your own scanning technique, apply it to other things. Try scanning newspaper or Internet articles, then go back and read more in depth to see how well you did. You might find yourself learning faster than ever before.

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