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Mini-module: Quick Guide to Reading Critically: Home

How to Read Critically


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Critical reading is when you don’t take a text at face value. Rather, you analyse the arguments and concepts more deeply. In this quick mini-module, you will find out how to do this.

Critical reading is important at university, and there are many reasons to develop this skill, such as:

  • Saving time
  • Focusing on the best sources
  • Deeper learning
  • Developing your critical thinking
  • Getting better results


 This Mini-module will show you:

  • How to identify relevant texts and sections
  • How to get engaged and read better
  • How to focus
  • How to be more critical


What is Critical Reading?


Critical reading is when you don’t take a text at face value. In other words, you think about and analyse the arguments and concepts more deeply. One major benefit of engaging like this with a text is that it leads to deep learning. 

Before finding out more about critical reading, try the activity below to see how much you already know (or can guess) about critical reading.

 


Now, let's look at five important suggestions for better critical reading.

Tips for Critical Reading


First Tip: Get involved

Reading critically needs more effort than normal reading. In normal reading you have to understand the text, but in critical reading you have to understand and you also have to analyse. So, you need to commit yourself and get engaged with the task so that you have that bit of extra motivation you will need. (And it gets quicker and easier with practice!)

-- Quick Practice about getting involved
For critical reading, it is necessary to take a bit more time and pay close attention. Below is a text that needs close reading if it is to be properly understood. 

Read the text carefully and then answer the questions below. 

"...Mrs Smith said she definitely witnessed the accident and had no difficulty remembering the exact place and time. It was 8.30 on Monday 2nd May 2022, right in the middle of London Bridge. She knows this because she could never forget the beautiful sight of the setting sun between the two towers of Tower Bridge. She remembers wishing she had brought her camera with her. It was rush hour and crowds of City workers with bowler hats and umbrellas were pushing past her towards London Bridge Station. Then, suddenly..."

 


Second Tip: Have a curious and questioning attitude


Ask questions and look for answers. Try to make sense of what you read, and make a note of questions that come into your mind. Then, see if the text answers your questions.

-- Quick Practice about asking questions
Here’s the first part of a text and with it the questions it raised for a student.

Picture of the Dover Bronze-age boat in Dover Museum

“In 1992, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit was observing the building work on the Channel tunnel. Workmen had dug a six-metre-deep shaft and when the archaeologists checked it for any possible remains, they discovered a wooden structure that appeared to be an ancient boat submerged in water at the bottom of the hole…” 

Having read this, the student had some questions: 

What was the structure?    How old was it?   How big was it?   Did the archaeologists bring it out of the hole?   Is it in a museum now?   What is the significance of the find?   What did archaeologists learn from it?   How was it constructed?   Are there any similar finds from other parts of the world?

Here’s the next part of the text – does it answer the student’s questions?

“Most of the boat was recovered, although it had to be cut into sections, and some of it had to be left in the hole. After conservation the recovered section of the boat, measuring about nine metres long and two metres wide, was put on display at Dover Museum. After seven years of conservation and analysis it appears that the boat dates from the Bronze Age between 1575 and 1520 BC. 20 boats of a similar age have been found in Britain, but this one is the largest and best preserved. Dover Museum considers it to be the oldest sea-going boat ever found anywhere in the world. “

For each of the student's questions below, say whether it was answered or not.

 

 


Picture of a woman looking sceptical

Third Tip: Healthy scepticism


Writers and researchers are only human. This means that sometimes they:

  • make mistakes
  • get carried away
  • have blind spots
  • make incorrect assumptions
  • are under pressure
  • have hidden motives.


So, when you are reading, look out for things that don’t seem to add up, such as: 

  • weak arguments, 
  • missing or insufficient evidence, 
  • unclear language, 
  • dubious assumptions, 
  • inflated conclusions, and 
  • anything that seems odd or surprising. 


-- Quick Practice about being sceptical
Thinking about the above points, choose the option that best describes the problem in each snippet of text below. 

 

 


Picture of many small skittles with lines linking them

Fourth Tip: Make Connections


Academic texts don’t exist in a vacuum, so:

  • look for the similarities and differences compared to other authors, and also 
  • consider when and where something was written. 


This gives context and can help you to understand better. 

It also means you will have something relevant to write, and is an opportunity to show that you are aware of the context of what you are studying. 

 

Fifth Tip: Focus

Don’t read everything. Be selective. Focus on your purpose: find the relevant texts and the relevant sections in a text. Don’t get side-tracked. 

Rather than starting on page 1 and reading everything until the end, you should get an overview of the text first – then choose the sections that you need to focus on. 

-- Quick exercise: how to approach a text
Do the following activity to see how to go about selecting and reading texts. 

 

Critical reading is an essential skill for university students. At first, you might feel that it is difficult and that it takes longer to read something. This is normal, but with practice you will find that you get better at it. You will also find that you save time because you will be effectively filtering out texts that are not relevant to your particular focus.

Find out more

That's the end of this short mini-module on critical reading. To keep learning and to find out more, you should:

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