Critical reading is a crucial skill for anyone seeking in-depth knowledge of a subject or who are aiming to become an expert or thought leader in a certain area. Critical reading means not taking things at face value, but really engaging in a text by asking questions, thinking about possible future research and taking the devil’s advocate role. Being able to read critically is basically the difference between being able to recognize the words written in an article and being able to understand their meaning, context and significance.
Critical reading is an essential part of academic life, and many professional careers require this skill. It will help you get into college and graduate school and help you as you move on in your career after school. Most major standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT and others, have critical reading sections.
Becoming an effective critical reader is a valuable skill, but one that often requires effort to hone. Besides a high score on your SAT, critical reading will allow you to assess opinions presented about important events in the world. It will help you take important decisions about causes you may want to get involved with or political stances to take or not take. In the professional world, critical reading will make it possible for you to understand the big picture of research or activities in your field and allow you to weigh cost/benefits with greater accuracy.
Here are some tips for you to enhance your critical reading skills:
Read it more than once
A single read-through of an article is usually not enough to read it critically. Depending on the complexity and length, it may be necessary for you to read it a few times in order to really understand the arc of the author’s logic. So, take your time, don’t skim, but read slowly and methodically, taking in the text a second or third time to make sure you understand it thoroughly. Each time you read it, you’ll uncover new layers, make new connections and pay attention to new facts that didn’t catch your eye the first time around. The preliminary step to critical reading is giving the text multiple readings.
If it’s not on paper, print a paper copy so you can use a highlighter to highlight major points, underline, jot down notes and questions in the margins. Engaging in the text this way allows you to recognize main arguments and important facts such as names and dates. It forces you to pay attention as you read and to read more slowly rather than skimming. It also provides you a springboard from which you can then form your own analysis. Good notes are an important step in critical reading.
Discuss it with others
Engaging others in a discussion about the article is a great way to increase your understanding of it. Maybe the other person will take the devil’s advocate role or maybe you will. In any case, the more thoughts you can gather on the subject, the stronger your comprehension of it will be. Other people will be able to look at angles of the subject you hadn’t considered. In order to be a critical reader, you must also be open-minded. Maintaining a strong bias based on your personal feelings about a subject will inhibit your ability to read critically. Failing to be objective also means you’ll fail to read critically.
If you’re reading an article about the Republican party’s presidential candidates, for example, and you’re a die-hard Democrat, it would be great for you to talk to a Republican to understand the other side of the political coin. Whether it’s a heated or an even-keeled discussion, you’ll get more out of it than if you had just gone along with your pre-formulated opinions.
Write a critical summary
A great way to make sure you really understood the text is to write a summary of the article. Using your notes and highlighted areas, think about the following themes:
- Who was the article written for?
- What is the goal of the article?
- Did it achieve this goal? If not, what kind of information is missing in order for it to be more successful?
- What are the main points of the article?
- How could it be improved?
- What are the possible next issues to be addressed on this particular subject? What does the future hold in this area?
- Who else is writing about this subject? What do they have to say that’s different from the author’s take?
A useful way to establish your thoughts on the article is to write a classic five paragraph essay that elaborates a thesis, anti-thesis and supporting ideas.
This stands for:
- Survey. Skim the text in order to get the gist of it, looking out for main points, dates, names and important descriptions.
- Question. Before you do an in-depth reading, make a list of questions relevant to the subject or assignment you’ve been given based on the skimming you did. Examples of some questions you could ask:
How does this author’s position on gay marriage differ from author X’s position?
In what way is this issue relevant to me or to my family/community/school, etc?
What impact is this article going to have on the way we think about X?
- Read. Read the article thoroughly, taking notes as you go along.
- Recall. Write down the main points and arguments that you remember from the text. This is a crucial point in deepening your understanding of it. Without having to look at the text again, recall the essence of the argument and the main points that you can remember. What stood out to you?
- Review. Go over your recall notes carefully and give the text another reading. Fill in any gaps that are missing in your notes based on your new reading.
Whether you’re a student, a professional or a citizen looking to engage more deeply in public debates, critical reading is a crucial skill that’s worth developing.