How to Skim Passages in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest

ucat skimming method

Skimming should not to be confused with scanning. It involves discovering the main ideas of a text, whilst scanning on the other hand is searching for important words, facts or phrases to find specific information.

In my opinion, skimming is one of the most important skills to develop when preparing for the verbal reasoning subtest. As it is important to develop your reading strategy for the exam, I strongly recommend also spending time to work on your ability to skim passages while retaining information. I will share some popular skimming methods, try each one during practice and pick the one that works best for you. Every person process information differently, so you have to figure this out on your own through testing. If your current approach isn’t working, you might want to consider switching it up. The most suitable skimming method is one that decreases regression (the number of times that you go over what you have read in the passage) and increases retention (remembering the main points of each paragraph).

Common Misconceptions with Skimming

There is some confusion as to what skimming is and when to use it, before we dive into how to skim, I would like to address some of the common misconceptions with skimming.

Misconception #1: Skimming is reading every word fast

A lot of students think skimming means reading every text in a passage quickly. This is a serious misunderstanding, when you read every word of a passage you take up too much time and memory space focused on unimportant parts of the passage. This is extremely dangerous when one assigns to much attention to trivial details and forget about the key points. At worse, we glance over details and forget what we just read – we obviously want to avoid this. When skimming our goal is to read fewer words but get more meaning.

Misconception #2: Skim passage to get more detail

This is another misconception, skimming should never be carried out to get more detail, anything that provides further depth or detail should be ignored. You want to draw out the main ideas not the finer points within them.There are four things you want to get out of the passage when skimming, they include:

Purpose: What is the point of the passage? Is it meant to argue a point? Explain a concept? Compare two conflicting viewpoints? Or analyse a course of action. In other words, you want to understand what the passage does.

Main Idea: What is the passage about? What is each paragraph about? We want to capture the main focus of each paragraph and overallpassage.

Structure: How is the passage structured?Does it lay out an argument to start then present a counterpoint before rebutting that counterpoint. Or start with background information on a trend, then dig into it by providing historical examples before finally projecting trend into the future. Basically, find the purpose of each paragraph within a passage.

Tone: How does the author feel about the main idea? Does the author feel anything? sometimes the answer is no. If its yes, how do they feel? Is it positive or negative? Are they excited or cautiously optimistic? Are they not in favour or hesitant? This can apply to people in the passage as well.

If while skimming, you feel you are grasping the main ideas, then you are skimming correctly.

How to Skim: Two Key Rules

Getting the essence from a passage without reading all the words boils down to practice and adopting a couple key rules:

Rule #1: Read ONLY Important Sentences

There are certain sentences in the passage that we know will be relevant to the purpose, main idea, organisation and tone of a passage. These major sentences include the first sentence of a paragraph, last sentence of a paragraphand sentences with extreme transition words. When you skim, it is good idea to read the first sentence in each paragraph properly as it usually describes what follows. Every passage is different, so it may be appropriate to also read the last sentence of a paragraph. The final sentence usually concludes or summarises what was covered in the paragraph and may prove to give more context to the main idea of the passage. If you see transition words such as ‘However’, ‘Therefore’, ‘In contrast’, ‘As a result’, ‘But’,’ Should’, ‘Must’, ‘Since’ etc, it is worth giving the whole sentence a read as well, on the other hand sentences with ‘For instance”, ‘For example’ or ‘such as’ should be skipped. These important sentences should provide a solid framework to build your skimming strategy for the UCAT verbal reasoning subtest.

Rule #2: Interpret as you go

Take a second at the end of each paragraph to summarise the paragraph in a few words. What did it say? What role does it serve in the passage? If you have long paragraphs it might be a good idea to take a pause at each transition word. What is the part before the transition word compared to after the transition word? Incorporate that shift into your summary.  This is a great time to think about purpose, main idea and tone of the passage. Interpreting as you go will help you stay engaged and help with retention. 

Methods of Skimming

I strongly recommend trying each skimming method below and picking the one that works the best for you under timed conditions. You may find yourself using one method to answer a specific question-type and another method for another. Do not shy from combining methods and creating your own unique approach. Try to find which approach works best for the respective scenarios:

  • Situation 1: Short Passage with True,False or Can’t Tell questions
  • Situation 2: ShortPassage with a multiple-choice questions
  • Situation 3: Long Passage with True,False or Can’t Tell questions
  • Situation 4: Long Passage with multiple-choice questions

Method #1: Read First Sentences ONLY

The introductory sentence of each paragraph usually describes what follows in the paragraph. When skimming, read only the first sentence in each paragraph and take a second to interpret it as you go – think about the main idea and purpose of each paragraph as well as the structure of the overall passage. See an example of below, we have highlighted the only parts of the each paragraph you read when skimming with this method:

ucat skimming example 1

Using this method we have a rough idea what each paragraph is about:

Paragraph 1: Natural Rights theory

Paragraph 2: Ninth amendment interpreted by constitutional traditionalists

Paragraph 3: Ninth amendment interpreted by liberalists

Overall Passage: History of US constitution

We might not have much context but have enough to know where to search for specific information to answer accompanying questions. Remember the goal is to get the gist of each paragraph to help decide where to find the answer for a question. Consider the question below:

skimming UCAT question

Using method 1 you will not know the answer to the question but should know to refer to paragraph 2 and 3 to solve the question rather than going over the entire passage. You save time as you know straightaway where to look to solve the question.

Feedback from a High Scoring Candidate:  Method 1 worked really well for me when answering True/False/Can’t Tell questions in the verbal reasoning subtest. I found that quickly skimming the first sentence of each paragraph then taking a second to interpret each one in my head saved more time as I knew where to search for answers for the corresponding questions.

You can build on method 1 and also read the last sentences of each paragraph to get more context and mould your understanding of the main idea in each paragraph. When I took the UCAT I did just that but be aware it can come with a few cons – first it takes up more time. Secondly, there is a risk it may not add to your understanding of the paragraph and finally, the last sentence might contradict or confuse understanding of the main idea – so adopt with caution.

Method #2: Read First and Last Paragraphs ONLY

All passages in the UCAT are organised with an introduction, main body and a conclusion. The introductory paragraph gives context and introduces the main idea of the passage whilst the conclusive paragraph generally summarises what has been said about the main idea. You can therefore get a good idea of the overall content of a passage by reading the first and last paragraphs. For some questions that will be enough to answer them, but if it isn’t, you will now have a good idea of the content and will find it easier to read in detail.

UCAT skimming method two

Using skimming method 2 we can deduce the following:

Paragraph 1: Natural Rights theory, what led to the 9thamendment, 9thamendment explained

Paragraph 2: Nothing

Paragraph 3: Ninth amendment interpreted by liberalists, examples of liberalist viewpoint e.g. voting rights and unlisted rights, implications of the 9thamendment

Overall Passage: History of US constitution and the 9thamendment

Questions that rely solely on information from paragraph 1 and 3 should be able to be solved more quickly. Consider the example below:

skimming question 2

Using method 2 you should be able to answer the question relatively quickly as it requires information from passage 1 to solve the answer. Another benefit of this method is that you have enough context to make inference. Consider the question below:

skimming question 3

For the above question, many students that rely heavily on the keyword method might waste time scanning the passage for keywords such as the ‘jury’ or ‘seventh amendment’ which are not stated in the passage. However, using method 2 you should be able to work out the right answer as it requires you to infer information provided in paragraph 1. For questions that require knowledge from the body go back to skim it before answering question. 

Advice from Top Scorer: Method 2 worked really well for small passages (3 paragraphs or less) and comprehension-type questions (i.e. Most likely questions, Except questions, According to the passage and Incomplete statements). If I didn’t know the answer to a question, I assumed the information required to answer it was in the main body (2nd paragraph). Many of the questions that required reviewing the first and last paragraphs I was able to answer right away. I would go back to search for textual evidence to double check I was picking the right option but wouldn’t waste time reading the paragraph again.

Method #3: Advanced Pseudo-Skimming

Advanced Pseudo-skimming is where you read only the first and last paragraphs, as well as the first sentence of all the paragraphs in the main body. The idea is that you put a little time upfront reading the passage but will save time overall answering the set of four questions related to the passage, because you will be able to quickly refer to relevant sections for each question.The method is essentially combining skimming method 1 and 2 – see passage below:

skimming question 4

Pseudo-skimming works really well if you can increase your reading speed. You can build on this method by also reading the last sentences of each paragraph in the main body, this should give more context in most cases.

Advice from Top Scorer: Method 3 worked really well for long passages (4 paragraphs and more) and comprehension questions. I realised that spending a little bit of time reading the passage meant I could answer the corresponding questions quicker. If you are new to skimming, I would recommend starting with method 1 then building yourself up to method 4. Also think about the most suitable approach for each question-type. Test each one during practice and pick the most suitable.

Method #4: Transition Skimming

This skimming method takes a lot of practice, it is where you read only major sentences by recognising transition words and using a bit of common sense. The goal is to skip sentences that elaborate on the preceding sentence. A good starting point is to skip sentences that start with transition words like ‘For instance”, ‘For example’ or ‘Such as’. You only want to pull out the main idea not the finer points within it. Make sure to take a second at the end of each paragraph to summarise what you’ve read. This technique is really good if you have good retention, i.e. are able to remember what you’ve read later on, as you’ll be taking in more information from the passage than any other skimming method. See example below:

transition skimming

I strongly recommend trying each skimming method and picking the one that works best under timed conditions. You may find yourself using one method to answer a specific question-type and another method for another. Do not shy from combining methods, for instance you may find it easier to use transition skimming for the first and last paragraphs and only reading the first sentences of the main body paragraphs. Or perhaps only reading the first paragraph and using method 4 for the remaining paragraphs. Remember these methods are just frameworks for you to adopt or create an entirely new strategy.

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