How to Scan text in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest

how to scan

Scanning goes hand-in-hand with skimming and reading in depth. Before you begin, don’t be afraid to go ahead and peek at the question before reading a passage. The question might indicate relevant keywords, ideas, or phrases that you will encounter. 

First, skim the passage to get a bird’s-eye-view of the main idea in each paragraph. Read the question properly then go back and scan the passage to identify the information or keywords. When scanning, don’t read every word, you are only looking for the location of the text within the passage. Pay attention to important information in the form of dates, places, names, and technical terms. Once you find the keyword read the referenced line or paragraph, whichever is appropriate. Finally, return to the question and pick your answer based on the details gathered from the piece of text.

Unlike skimming, when scanning, you are looking only for a specific piece of information without really digesting the text – your level of comprehension should be minimal to save time. For scanning to be effective, you need to understand how the passage is structured as well as comprehend what you read intensively.If the referenced sentence confuses you, reread it and the adjacent sentences to fully absorb the information to the fullest extent.

How to Scan: Five Key Rules

Rule #1 Establish a Goal

This would be a keyword, idea or phrase you are searching for within the passage. Sometimes when eliminating options or picking the final answer, you may want to refer back to the passage and scan for phrases or words that prove or disprove an option.

Rule #2 Look don’t Read

Scanning is not Skimming, don’t read the words or sentences – Just look. Only read when you find the relevant information to help answer a question. Keep your level of comprehension as minimal as possible when looking through words and sentences.

Rule #3. Keep your eyes moving quickly

Keep thinking about the words or phrases you are looking for and keep your eyes moving quickly. If you don’t do it quickly then you are not really scanning, and probably stopping to read the other words. Avoid this at all cost!

Rule #4: If you don’t find the Keyword don’t Panic

If you don’t find it first time, try again. There is always a chance examiner are trying to trick you by using a different alternative to the phrase used in the passage (e.g. Residential properties instead of home, vehicle instead of car, etc), or maybe introduce a topic not covered in the text. This is common, these questions will require to think more about context or potentially choose the “Can’t Tell’ option for T/F/C questions as they are not in the passage.

Rule #5: Reduce Subvocalization and Fixation

The smaller the number of words being subvocalized (i.e. saying words in your head or out loud while reading), the faster scanning will become. Also, reduce to number of fixations on irrelevant texts, i.e. stopping and focusing on text without the keyword.

Common Mistakes to avoid when Scanning

Mistake #1: Skimming and scanning at the same time

This is where you are reading the text as you try to find a keyword or phrase, this is detrimental as it can waste time, students tend to not comprehend what their reading well enough if they do not find the keyword. Focus on one task at a time – when you are skimming do not scan, and when you are scanning do not read the text until you find the relevant keywords or phrase.

Mistake #2: Not checking other mentions of the Keyword

It is common for students once they find a keyword not to double check it’s not mentioned in other parts of the passage. Always double check the remainder of the passage as you may need to combine information from separate parts to make a decision.

Mistake #3: Not reading surrounding sentences for more Context

Once you find the keyword or phrase you are looking for, don’t just only read the referenced line. As a minimum, read the line preceding it as well as after to get more context. If that is not enough to make a decision, it may be appropriate to read or skim the entire paragraph.

Scanning Methods: Two Types

Method #1: Eye Movement

This is the standard method for scanning the text. When we scan text, our eyes move in quick jerky movements called saccades. This rapid eye movement allows us to move quickly though the text. It might not seem like it, but scanning requires concentration and can be surprisingly tiring. You may have to practice at not allowing your attention to wander or fixate on irrelevant text (fixation). If you find yourself in a position where this is difficult then consider using a visual aid when scanning passages in the exam.

Method #2: Finger or Pointer Method

Learning to use your finger or the mouse pointer in the exam as a visual aid to scan the passages can be helpful when dealing with challenging material. This reduces the likelihood of skimming and fixations – therefore, increasing overall scanning speed. Keep your eye fixated above the tip of your finger or pointer. It serves as a pacer to help maintain consistent speed and decrease fixation duration.  If you prefer using your finger go for it, the UCAT is computer-based so holding your finger against the screen might seem a bit weirdat first but could prove beneficial by reducing fixation.

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