Cramming for tests doesn’t work—scheduling consistent, serious study sessions is always a better idea. Sometimes, though, you’re in a rush to study; it happens to the best of us. And you can make the best of that by speed reading effectively. There are ways to skim that can still help you learn and retain some information, which is, after all, far better than nothing.
Try the “pointer method” to speed read
If you’re a speed-reading novice, try the “pointer method,” which involves following the words with your fingertip as you read them, similar to what a child might do. There are a few words for this, like “hand pacing” and “meta guiding,” but the point of it (pun intended) is to have you focusing, reading intentionally, and focusing on words and their meanings, even when you’re moving fast. It keeps you engaged and helps you stay on task. If it’s not having the effect you’re looking for, try underlining the sentences with a pen as you go.
Skim headings and other important context clues
Skimming is often employed as the first step of more in-depth critical reading techniques, like SQ3R. Just as you would when preparing for a more involved technique, you should skim the headings, subheadings, chapter title, tables, image captions, bolded words, or whatever else was designed by the author to stand out.
Chapter titles, headings, and subheadings can give you a solid idea of what the text is about, which might be all you need to grasp what you’re supposed to be thinking about or paying attention for in class.
Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph
Try reading the first and last sentence of every paragraph, as these set up and then put a point on whatever the paragraph is about. You can do this after going through all the subheadings and titles. For extra benefit, read the entire opening and closing paragraph of the chapter or section, for the same reasons.
Try to avoid having too much to read
Even if you’re short on time, try to speed read one chapter at a time instead of having to consume multiple chapters or sections at once. As you speed read, you still want to be grasping the overall concept and theme, so try to avoid a situation where you’re taking in too many of them. This should be reserved, ideally, for when you need to get a feel for a topic—say, before class or a big meeting—so to the best of your ability, focus only on the ideas and concepts you need most at the moment. Everything else should be studied more efficiently and thoroughly over time, but that’s a different battle entirely.