How to Stop Skimming While Reading (Explained!)

How to Stop Skimming While Reading (Explained!)


Say NO to Skimming

You probably know someone out there who is in a perpetual state of information overload. The main side effect of this is the inability to properly comprehend and remember the information that reaches them through their many digital devices, and that often results in the practice commonly known as skimming. 

Perhaps you are even one of those people. As a student, you are overwhelmed by the pile of course materials you need to dig into to pass your exams. So you are forced to skim to be able to meet up.

Don’t worry; there is nothing to be ashamed of. Skimming seems to be what most people do when trying to catch up with their reading nowadays, and who could blame them, right? 

So what can you do to properly train yourself to retain more of what you read as this never-ending flow of information keeps coming? What can you do to become an effective speed-reader and not just a skimmer?

To stop skimming, you need to minimize subvocalization, adjust your reading speed, preview the text, and improve your vocabulary.

Let’s review some basic but valuable tips to stop skimming while reading, maintain a good comprehension level, and retain information. 

What is skimming?

Skimming is a reading strategy where a reader focuses on the key ideas in a text while ignoring other elaborate details that are less important

Today’s information age has forced us to find alternative ways to deal with information, and it has also shattered most traditional practices when it comes to accessing and consuming information. 

We are overloaded with lots of content on the world wide web. Therefore, to absorb the information in every resource published on the internet and our recommended course texts, there is a need to find a reading method that helps. 

Skimming can sometimes be an effective way to sift through this information. The trouble comes with the fact that skimming is not really going to help you remember much of the reading material or help you to actually expand your knowledge from whatever it is you are reading.

Let’s begin by stating some basic facts. The average reader can get through 150 to 250 words per minute (WPM). This can easily be increased given the proper practice and training that our eyes need.

So not only do we need to train ourselves to ignore distractions and minimize old reading habits such as subvocalization, but we also must train ourselves to focus and maintain a strong retention level as we go through the information at hand.

Another important factor is your vocabulary. After all, an important part of reading faster while retaining more information is understanding the material at hand, for which building and constantly increasing our vocabulary is essential.

With bad reading habits, inadequate reading speed, distractions, and a weak vocabulary, reading becomes a chore, and we are tempted to skim.

Some texts do not require skimming. They will need you to immerse yourself in the content for you to be able to comprehend and subsequently retain the key ideas in the text. 

Skimming might be a recipe for failure, especially for some courses where you must read between the lines to grasp the text.

Skimming vs. speed-reading 

While skimming involves running your eyes through a text to find the most crucial information, speed reading is the use of specialized techniques to read a text faster.  

Skimming is more like the first step in the reading process, whereby a reader focuses on the main message in the text before they start reading in detail. 

It’s like previewing the whole written material by targeting the title, subheading, images, and the like to understand the overall message the text is trying to push. 

Skimming is also faster than speed reading because you have to focus on getting the general ideas the text is trying to highlight. Thus, the center of attention is the sections in the text where these ideas are located, while speed reading only provides you with valuable skills and techniques to help you read the text faster. 

The big difference between skimming and speed-reading really comes down to whether you are willing to put a conscious effort to get the best out of your reading. It doesn’t matter if you read for fun, work, or school; skimming will only take you so far before you realize you need a better way to remember and comprehend the material.

Effective ways to stop skimming while reading

If you wish to eliminate skimming during your reading exercises, you must employ specific strategies to help you overcome this habit. They include:

Use the pointer method

This strategy involves pointing your index finger or a card under the lines of text you are reading

This will help guide your eyes to focus on every word of text in the reading material, which you may otherwise skip. It will also stop your eyes from wandering around the text material.

Reduce subvocalization

Remember when you first learned to read? You were initially told to read out loud and later told to read to yourself. That voice in your head while reading is known as subvocalization. Saying every word in your head leads you to only read as fast as you talk.

Subvocalization is a bad reading habit that slows down your reading pace, which may end up making you disinterested in what you are reading when you find out you have read so little after spending long hours on the material. This will coax you into skimming. 

Reduce subvocalization by distracting yourself from saying words in your head,  chewing gum, listening to music, and disciplining your eyes. 

While you will never completely get rid of this habit, you can train yourself to minimize it by learning more about techniques that will help you reduce it.

Speed up and slow down

This involves adjusting your reading speed at intervals, such as slowing down on the first line of a sentence in a paragraph and increasing the pace in the second line.

Training yourself to read faster doesn’t mean reading at top speed all the time. You also need to recognize when and where slowing down can be beneficial. For this, you’ll need to keep in mind a few strategies based on the type and structure of the reading material you are dealing with. You need to learn how to adjust your reading speed.

Slowing down when reading the first sentence helps you comprehend the paragraph’s main message before delving into the next line.

Although it is generally recommended to use a pen or your fingertip to guide your eyes as you read, it might not be very practical to drag your finger or pen across a digital screen. That is unless you have one of those fancy stylus pens. In that case, you can knock yourself out. 

But if you don’t, you should instead try reading while focusing on groups of words in specific areas of each line based on the grammar and length of each paragraph. 

This strategy will stop you from skipping some lines in the text because you think you are reading too slowly. It will also help you understand the information better. 

Read the excerpt* in the video below to get an idea of how this works. Focus on the area between the light-colored parenthesis as they move along each section of each sentence, and try to keep up.


* Excerpt from Contagion by Katherine MacLean, available at Project Gutenberg

Preview the material

Another way to read faster with comprehension is to get familiar with your material before you read it. Previewing involves looking over the text to understand its central idea before you start reading. 

This previewing strategy is similar to the idea of watching a preview or trailer before seeing a movie. Familiarize yourself with this previewing strategy and get the best out of your reading time.

If you’re familiar with what you’re about to read, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. This way, you can get through the material more quickly without skimming. 

Improve your vocabulary

Your reading speed is closely related to the strength of your vocabulary. It’s difficult to read faster if you’re constantly coming across words you don’t understand. This will make you skip several lines of text to avoid interrupting your reading speed.

However, a low level of comprehension while reading will not provide you with the learning experience you require, which is why you need to improve your vocabulary. 

Obviously, the more you read, the better your vocabulary gets. But there are also useful techniques to help you memorize words that often may not be so easy to recall or comprehend.

The substitution technique, also known as the similar sound technique, can help you commit new vocabulary, especially technical words, to memory. This technique uses the structural composition of words to creatively help you remember them based on more familiar concepts or ideas. 

Using the dictionary while reading will enrich your vocabulary as it will not only educate you on the meaning of the word but will also enlighten you on the synonyms and antonyms of the words.

Also, consider playing word games such as scrabble or studying a large vocabulary of digital flashcards daily. 

Most importantly, use these new words in your conversation. There is no point in learning about these words without plans to practice with them. This may sound cliche, but constant practice will make you perfect. 

The Fibonacci sequence

Another way to memorize new vocabulary, especially if you like math, is by reviewing your vocabulary at specific time frames using the Fibonacci sequence as a guide.

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical series of numbers that includes: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. (each next number is determined by adding the two previous numbers).

You would use these numbers to determine the point at which you should review your new vocabulary. So, for example, if you learned ten new words today, you could review them one day later, then one day after that, then two days later, then three days later, five days later, eight days, and so on.

Note that the review length increases over time when using the Fibonacci sequence and works well because of how your memory functions. Newly learned information needs to be reviewed quickly at first, but as time goes on, your review intervals can be spaced apart more widely as the information is transferred into your long-term memory.

When you fully overhaul your vocabulary, you will enjoy reading every line of text without being tempted to skip a single word, except you are using it as a first reading strategy before settling down to read in detail. 

Conclusion

Skimming is a reading method that involves focusing on important information in a text. While this is a good speed reading technique, you can only use it for certain content that does not require learning about other details in the text. 

That is why it is pertinent to stop skimming while reading, especially if you are preparing for an important exam that may require you to read between the lines. 

You can eliminate skimming by minimizing subvocalization, adjusting your reading speed, previewing the text, and improving your vocabulary.

As with everything else, practice and perseverance are your best allies, and having the best resources at your disposal is essential. So if you haven’t already done so by now, stop skimming and start speed reading.

If you’re just getting started on this path to abandon skimming and learn to read faster while maintaining better comprehension, check out our Speed Reading Foundation Course. It contains everything you need to get you started on basic speed-reading concepts and techniques. 

Or, if you’re already familiar with the basic speed-reading concepts, you’ll be more interested in our Mastery or Advanced Comprehension and Memory Courses.


Paul Nowak

Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading and memory courses. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals worldwide at institutions that include: NASA, Google, HSBC and many Fortune 500 companies.


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