How to Skim a Reading Passage

You can read all you like, but unless you retain what you read, you’re not going to do very well on the reading passages of today’s most important college entrance exams. However, time is always a factor and can make this difficult to do. That’s why it’s important to know how to skim a reading passage for the most important facts and details. Take a look at our tips for effective skimming.

Know the “Big Picture” Interpretations

You can skim a passage and still have a sense of the big picture interpretations you’ll need. But how do you know what to look for? Generally, you’ll want a grasp of these general items:

  • The questions. By reading the questions about the passage first, you can keep an eye out for the answers as you skim.
  • The main point/thesis. What is the point of the passage? What do they want readers to take away from the passage?
  • Tone/style. What is the author’s technique for achieving the above?
  • Evidence. An author will support their main points with specific evidence. What are the key points of evidence they employ in trying to communicate the above?

Master the Basic Structure of Writing

How often do you really consider the structure of what you’re reading while you read? Most people simply move from sentence to sentence and hope that they’ll retain as much as possible. But if you devote some part of your SAT/ACT preparation to understanding the basic structure of writing, you’ll also reap some benefits when it comes to retention.

Essentially, the basic structure of writing boils down into an intro, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction of a passage is important because it will point to the overall thesis/main point that the author is trying to get across. The body will help you identify the evidence that the author uses to make their point, and the conclusion often summarizes the piece.


Reading is not a passive activity. It’s an active attempt to learn what someone else is trying to convey. To that end, it always helps to annotate with your reading. Mark down major thesis points, underline transition sentences that signify a new piece of evidence, and circle anything else that you believe may come up in the questions. This will help you refer to the passage when you need to find the answer to specific questions. Think of annotating as placing “bookmarks” in a reading passage that will help you make sense of what you read after you’re done.

If you’re not sure how to do this, start practicing with your textbooks. Set a timer for 10 minutes and take notes, trying to see how many sections and facts you can retain within those ten minutes.

Seek Assistance from an ACT/SAT Tutor

Knowing how to skim a reading passage is imperative for acing the SAT or ACT. If you’d like to learn more ways to prepare yourself for the reading sections of the most popular college entrance exams, work with an ACT/SAT tutor from Jantzi Test Prep. Our team can help you optimize your reading skills and give yourself more confidence on the day of the exam. Contact us today!