Some Thoughts on Critical Reading

By the DAS Team, directors of academic support, Empire State College

June 16, 2014

Students at Empire State College do much of their work independently. While they communicate and learn from their mentors, they also acquire knowledge by doing the required reading, writing and research, on their own. Critical reading is necessary to comprehend the content of a study, as well as being able to understand what questions to ask, to better understand that content.

Critical reading is active reading. It requires effort to achieve an understanding. You may be able to read every word in a paragraph correctly, and not be able to make sense of the text. In order to better comprehend the ideas within a text, you must be an active participant before, during and after you read.

The following steps can be used to develop successful critical reading skills.

First, it is important to read in a place where one can concentrate. Whereas most people prefer a quiet place such as a library or a private room to read, others feel they can concentrate while listening to music. The first act of successful critical reading is to choose an environment that is conducive to focusing.

Next, begin to pre-read the text. Skim the reading assignment by reading chapter titles, subheadings, highlighted sections and any text that accompanies illustrations or charts. You also can read the topic sentence of each paragraph to help identify what supporting details to look for.

Then, begin reading the text with a pen or pencil in hand. While reading, underline the key points and assertions of each paragraph. Mark confusing parts that require re-reading and unpacking sentences. Connect important words, phrases or ideas with arrows. In the margin of the text, write your own associations or questions related to the text. Keep a dictionary handy to look up any unfamiliar words, and write brief definitions in the text.

Finally, reread your annotations. Consolidate and integrate what you have read. Try to summarize the author’s purpose, main ideas and /or arguments. Write the meaning of the text in your own words. With a better understanding of the text, reread it to clarify what you have learned and what you need to further analyze.

Taking the time to read your assignments with a critical eye can make writing assignments a thoughtful, even enjoyable process.

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