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The OET Guide to Scanning

By 29 October 2018Test Tips

Do you have good scanning skills?

Healthcare professionals need to be able to read quickly (scanning) to understand content while still retaining key information. Whether you’re a doctor reading through a patient’s medical records or a nurse trying to identify care instructions, being able to scan text is important.

To help you, we’ve put together an informative guide to scanning that you can use in Reading Part A. You will learn:

  • What scanning is
  • How it is different from skimming
  • Why scanning is important
  • How to scan.

What is scanning?

Scanning is reading a text quickly to find specific information. It involves rapid eye movements and keywords to advance quickly through a text.

Depending on what you’re reading this can be:

  • Dates
  • Names
  • Care instructions
  • Drug dosages

What’s the difference between skimming and scanning?

People will often confuse scanning with another reading skill: skimming. While they both involve reading through a text quickly, they involve searching for different kinds of information.

Skimming: Scanning:
Looking for the general meaning Looking for specific information

Let’s take a look at an example to help show the difference:

  • 11/5: Mr Brown attended a consultation for a foot ulcer
  • 13/5: Mr Brown was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Skimming would lead to the conclusion that this is information about Mr Brown’s medical history. Scanning, on the other hand, would lead you to a number of key details such as:

  • Name: Mr Brown
  • Dates: 11/5 and 13/5
  • Symptom: Foot ulcer
  • Diagnosis: Type 2 Diabetes

The information you scan for will depend on the question or the type of information you are searching for.

Why is scanning important?

Scanning is not unique to healthcare, everyone uses it in their everyday life. However, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals tend to be more time-poor, requiring them to quickly find and use information.

Time spent reading through a document could be time spent helping a patient. Further, due to the information in these documents being highly important to diagnose and care, getting it right is essential.

How do I scan for information?

Scanning allows you to quickly move through large amounts of information to find specific information. To do this you will need to skip large chunks of information, focusing only on the correct information you’re looking for. However, you also need to do this effectively or you risk missing key information.

Take a look at the steps below to help you scan effectively:

1. Know what you’re looking for

Before you start scanning, you will already have a good idea of what detail it is you are looking for. This will help you move your eyes quickly over the page to find what you want to know. For example, it may be your task to check when the patient had their last dose of medication. Looking at their patient record, you will ignore all the information which is not about medication and then move your eyes quickly to check the last time recorded against it.

2. Identify key terms and move quickly

Once you know what you’re looking for, identify the key terms, phrases and names you need to look for.

Move your eyes quickly over the text, scan for the key details and ignore everything that is not relevant.

3. Read the rest of the text

When you find the key details, read the surrounding words (and sentences)

Read through these to check the details you’ve found are the ones you want.

OET Scanning while reading takes concentration top tip

Using Scanning in Reading Part A

In Reading Part A there are 3 types of questions: Matching, Gap fill and Short answer.

The first section of questions will always ask you to match given information to the correct text (A, B, C, D). You can find more information about matching strategies here.

The remaining questions will be in 2-3 sections of either gap-fill or short answer questions. The best way to answer these questions will be to use scanning techniques during reading.

In a gap-fill task, the words around the gap will help you identify what type of word you are looking for. They also act as keywords to scan for in the text to narrow down what you need to read to maybe 1 or 2 sentences.

Here’s an example:

Make sure the patient isn’t wearing any (17) _______________________ on the part of the body where the plaster backslab is going to be placed.

In this sentence, the words before the gap ‘wearing any’ and the words after the gap ‘on the part of the body’ tell us that the missing word is going to be a plural noun. It could be an adjective + a noun. The verb ‘wearing’ also helps to narrow the category of the noun to words for clothes or other items worn on the body.

The words ‘plaster backslab’ are keywords to scan the text for to help you find the exact noun (+ adjective) which will complete this gap. Answering questions 1-7 will have given you a good idea of how the contents of the 4 texts are different. This will help you start with the 1 text you think is most likely to contain the keywords.

For more information about Reading or Writing sub-tests, make sure you head over to the Preparation Portal! You will find the information tips, strategies and guides that can help you get the results you need.

Preparation OET