This lesson looks at skimming – the ability to read a text quickly and understand what the general meaning is. I suggest one way to practise your skimming skills. It is a good place to start if you find you can’t read texts quickly enough and don’t like skimming and so only scan for “key words” in the text. It may help that the practice idea is really half scanning and half skimming. After a skimming exercise, there is a sample reading text with 5 true/false/not given questions.
Don’t read the whole text, read bits of the text
The idea is that what you need to read when you skim are the important/general bits of the text. You don’t want to waste time on details – you can do that later. All you have to do is decide what the important parts of the text are. Want to know what the important bits are? Here is my suggestion:
- the first sentence in every paragraph is normally important and gives the main idea of the paragraph
- the first few words in each paragraph normally tell you what that sentence is about
Try an exercise
Read these bits of sentences.
- How long does it take you?
- Do you generally understand the paragraph? What’s it about?
There are different ways in which volcanoes are classified.
Perhaps the most common and certainly the one used by non-specialists
This classification is problematical
Typically, a volcano is said to be extinct
The difficulty with this is that man has been on the planet
This can be exemplified
When Vesuvius did erupt,
An assumption had been made
Indeed, this is by no means an isolated example
The one difference being that the castle is still with us
How long did it take?
That was a quarter of a full IELTS reading. If you did it in 30 seconds, that means you can read a whole IELTS reading in 2 minutes. But did you understand anything?
What was it about?
No details needed here. But it is really important you note/underline a few details so you remember them later and also help you understand what you are reading. These are the words/ideas I would choose and why.
volcanoes (perhaps but maybe it’s all about volcanoes)
classification by non-specialists (repeated from the first sentence so probably important)
problematical/difficult (these words mean the same thing really- repeated ideas are normally important ideas)
example/Vesuvius (I see example and I think this is a detail not a main idea) (I see a proper name “Vesuvius” and I think detail not main idea normally) (Proper names are often useful in questions though so I underline it)
another example/castle (okay, more detail, the key idea was probably at the top of the paragraph) (perhaps classification)
My practice suggestion is that you start just looking at the beginnings of sentences as I have shown you. What should happen as you practice more is that you read more and more of the text each time you do it until you are genuinely skim reading the whole text.
If you like techy online programs, I suggest you take a look at the line reading tool from:
What you need to do there is set the “chunks” to 5/6 words and I suggest a reading speed of around 250.
Now try a full reading exercise
This text is longish – about half a full IELTS reading. Try skimming first, then have a go at the questions by scanning and then reading closely. Don’t worry about time. Worry about getting the right answer.
It might help you to know that a “vulcanologist” is an expert in volcanoes. You should be able to guess this
vulcan = volcano
ologist = expert (think psychologist/geologist etc)
There are different ways in which volcanoes are classified. Perhaps the most common and certainly the one used by non-specialists is the division of volcanoes into the catgories of active, dormant or extinct. This classification is problematical as there is no clear definition of what makes a volcano active, dormant or extinct. Typically, a volcano is said to be extinct if it has not erupted in historical times, or at least since written records began, and it is dormant if it is known to have erupted in historical times but is now quiet. The difficulty with this is that man has been on the planet for a comparatively short period of time and our historical records are a rather inaccurate predictor of volcanic activity and dormant, and even extinct, volcanoes have been known to erupt. This can be exemplified by one of the most notorious episodes in the annals of vulcanology, the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. When Vesuvius did erupt, it caused massive loss of life in the nearby towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii for the simple reason that the locals had not just settled in towns near to the volcano but they had even gone so far as to build vineyards on its slopes. An assumption had been made that just because it had not erupted in memory, it would not erupt. Indeed, this is by no means an isolated example of humans deciding to settle near volcanoes: another famous instance is how Edinburgh Castle is likewise built on a volcano. The one difference being that the castle is still with us and has not disappeared in a cloud of ash and a torrent of lava produced by a volcanic eruption.
Scientists tend to categorise volcanoes not by their probable activity, but by their features, size, location and form. Hence vulcanologists refer to stratovolcanoes or composite volcanoes, shield volcanoes, submarine volcanoes, cone volcanoes, mud volcanoes, supervolcanoes and subglacial volcanoes. The most dangerous of these are the supervolcanoes which should they erupt would not merely threaten the existence of a town such as Pompeii but could even call into question the future of entire continents for human habitation. They are of such magnitude that the sulphur and ash produced by an explosion could adversely affect air temperature globally. Some of the largest, and least known, volcanoes are the submarine volcanoes found on the ocean floor. Their activity often goes unnoticed by non-specialists because the sheer amount of water pressing down on them means that the gases do not escape into the atmosphere. Though, occasionally they do erupt so massively that new islands are formed above the level of the ocean. Likewise, subglacial volcanoes that form beneath the icecap escape general notice until the icecap melts and table top mountains appear. Stratovolcanoes, cone, shield and mud volcanoes are simply volcanoes classified by being formed of different materials and forming different shapes.