Why You Need to Become a Better Skimmer in College

As Midterms Week passes, you may be wondering to yourself, “did I really need to read those 50 pages last night?” Let’s be real, the amount of reading you have to do in college is horrendous. Unless you absolutely love reading, I know it’s probably impossible to sit down with a book and fully understand it and retain all the information you need to know.

I, on the other hand, grew up not liking reading and becoming totally impatient with the huge amount of pages I had to read. Especially when it comes to material that doesn’t interest you. I’m not talking about leisure books here, kids!

Disclaimer: this is not a post telling everyone to read this way. If you have your own way of reading successfully, by all means, do it! I know that at most high schools we are taught to be “analytical readers” and “critical thinkers," but during huge exams, you never have the time to do all that. Pulling out the important information that means something is way more important.

In my experience, skimming books and being selective when it comes to source material is a better way for me to internalize topics and ideas rather than totally reading word for word. Do not feel bad if your professor assigns you a 30-page Buddhism article and you become totally overwhelmed by it. And don’t get discouraged either! Here’s how I taught myself to be an effective skimmer:

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Select Keywords and Phrases

Highlighting key terms or sentences that you think are helpful to your understanding or that you need to look up are going to help you out in the long run. It is easy to get lost in a whole essay or sorts, so make sure that you can fully understand the reading by defining words you don’t know. You can access the OED via DePaul’s library by going here.

Grab Information That Betters Your Understanding

Only grab the information that you need to succeed. I know we all can get lost trying to remember every little detail, but if your professor only asks a couple of questions regarding the context of the essay just focus on the context!


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Do Not Highlight Everything

A major no-no is to just take your entire pack of different colored Sharpie highlighters and creating a beautiful rainbow on your reading. The worst thing you want to do is to waste time collecting every sentence you don’t really need.  

Re-read Things You Do Not Understand

It can be easy to get frustrated with terms and phrases we don’t understand. Sometimes going over a paragraph again can make all the difference. Make note of them and try hard to make sense of it in a different and easier way.


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Use External Resources and Reading Guides

I’m an advocate for reading guides and when I don’t totally get a topic or a plot of something, I like to look up other interpretations of the reading to get a better perspective and outlook on it. In no way do I mean just resort to these helpful internet reading guides and sites, but there are so many resources out there to help you so take advantage of them!

I don’t mean to be one to tell anyone how to read, but I know a lot of college kids kind of forget how to strategically do their readings and make the entire process more stressful and intimidating than it needs to be. I know reading is still hard for a lot of people, because it is for me, too. I get discouraged when I know I have to unpack a dense thirty page article.

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I advise you to take it page by page! If you can manage your readings day after day, they should become easier to interpret and always ask your professor for help. We should all be reading smarter and not harder when it comes to academic readings, so take your time and learn on!