Everything You Ever Wondered About Critical Reading and How To Do It

Critical reading is one of the key reading skills you need to develop, especially if you want to further your education. In college, you are required to analyze any subject matter with a critical mindset. You can only do that by questioning the accepted norms and conventional theories you find in texts.

Achieving academic success isn’t the only reason why you want to work on your critical reading abilities. When you can employ critical thinking to analyze a text, you are able to decipher your personal and professional exchanges better too. It is an asset you must have if you want to succeed in any career you choose.

If critical reading is so important, why isn’t more attention devoted to developing those skills in K-12 education? There is still a significant gap between the need for students to read and think critically and the tools they are equipped with to learn how to do so.

It’s a testament to the need for rethinking American high schools on a deep, fundamental level. Every change has to start from within, so begin by improving your skills and abilities and go from there. Here’s everything you need to know to hone your critical reading skills.

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What Is the Definition of Critical Reading?

Critical reading is the ability to analyze any text you’re reading actively, all the while questioning the author’s:

  • Choice of words
  • Writing style
  • Use of evidence
  • Drawn-up conclusions
  • Presented theories
  • Potential bias

In other words, you don’t read passively or merely for pleasure. Instead, when you’re reading something with a critical mindset, you want to get to the “bottom” of the text. You are looking to challenge any norms or strategies used in the creation of that text so that you can form an original opinion on it.

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How Is Critical Reading Different From Other Types of Reading?

Here are some of the main differences between noncritical and critical reading:

Critical Reading Noncritical Reading
Analyzing the validity of the facts in the text Reading to find out facts
Seeing how the topic is presented Seeing what the topic is about
Responding actively to the text before you Absorbing the text before you passively

Critical Reading vs. Critical Thinking

By now, you’ve gathered that reading critically doesn’t mean you necessarily criticize the text before you—the same is true of critical thinking. Critical reading and thinking are inevitably connected, but there is a slight difference between the two actions.

You read a text critically when you want to decipher its meaning and all the aspects that have been put together in the text for the message to come through. Critical thinking refers to you deciding where you stand in reference to the meaning and implications you’ve gathered from the material.

You should also employ critical thinking for practices beyond reading—not just in school or college, but in real life too. 

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself when reading and thinking critically:

Critical Reading Critical Thinking

Who wrote the text, and why are they experts on the subject matter?

Do I think the author is the right person to write on the subject, based on what I read?
Is the topic presented clearly and effectively?

How would I present the topic differently?

Are the views backed up by valid and thorough research? What do I think of the author’s sources? Which are useful? Which are not?
What tools does the author use to convince us of their conclusions? Do I agree with the author’s viewpoint? Why yes? Why not?

Even though, in theory, critical reading comes first, in practice, you should use both interchangeably. For example, what you think of the text in front of you will determine how you continue to read it. Likewise, based on the critical reading of the text, you will form your own opinions on the subject matter.

The most important reason why you should differentiate the two practices is to recognize when you are projecting your biases onto the text you’re reading and avoid doing that.

What Are Critical Reading Skills?

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Now that you know to what extent critical reading helps you in almost every area of your life, you will want to develop and practice those skills. It’s significant to note that reading texts carefully is only a small part of critical reading. Additional aspects are:

  1. Being selective
  2. Knowing how to skim and scan
  3. Reading actively
  4. Taking notes
  5. Revising

Taking Your Pick

Locating the articles, books, or any reading material that’s suitable for the topic you’re studying and then selecting which you’ll end up reading is a skill you can learn with practice. 

If you choose the first text that falls into your lap to read before researching whether it’s valid or not, you can end up losing much time and effort. Especially today, when all kinds of information and reading material are available, it’s crucial to select which is relevant.

Researching before selecting your material implies you’ll find out:

  • Whether the writing is relevant for the topic you want to read about 
  • Who the author is
  • What sources they used to back up the arguments
  • Whether the material is outdated

Skimming the Material 

Skimming the texts for value is another part of the selection process. When you have researched the material, you need to go through it quickly before delving into it deeply.

You need to know how to skim and scan the text correctly. The former implies you speed through the chapters or paragraphs to get the overall impression of what topics are covered or even what conclusions are drawn up. The latter means you’ll look for specific parts of the text that are relevant to you, so you don’t need to bother with reading the parts that aren’t.

Reading and Analyzing

This is where deep reading comes in. When you’re sure you have the proper material you need, you can get down to work. You’ll do much critical thinking during this part, as you’ll want to ask yourself:

  • How the author reached this conclusion
  • Where they found the theories they’re presenting
  • Whether you agree with their viewpoint/s or not

Jotting It Down

Smart students know the importance of taking notes when reading any material. If you want to possess critical reading skills, you shouldn’t count on memorizing the concepts you’ve read, especially if a larger piece of work is in question.

There are many tools you can use to annotate effectively, like:

  • Post-it notes
  • Highlighters
  • Scribbling down your ideas or opinions while you read
  • Noting down questions you have or the theories you want to test 

Putting It Together

When you’re done reading a particular piece, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t perish from your memory in half an hour. Knowing how to tie concepts together—the ones you’ve read and the conclusions you’ve drawn—so that you remember them clearly is a skill you can work on.

There are strategies to employ while reading critically that will give you the ability to talk and write on the subject matter at a later time.

Developing Critical Reading Skills—Strategies and Tips

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Now you know what falls under critical reading skills, you need to employ the strategies that help you use and develop those skills effectively. Here are the activities you’ll want to work on:

  1. Identifying the author’s purpose and audience
  2. Using prior knowledge
  3. Giving yourself time
  4. Using helpful tools
  5. Asking questions
  6. Summarizing

Identifying the Purpose and Intention

The importance of researching the material you want to read and knowing exactly who wrote it has already been stressed out. You can read the preface or introduction of the material to gain insight into why the author has written a particular piece you want to read.

Another important aspect of this step is learning who the text is intended for. When you know who the target audience is, you will be able to predict the tone and style of the text. You’ll also know why certain writing strategies are employed and will be able to recognize them.

You should also take note of the title of the material to get the idea of the author’s approach, attitude, or viewpoints.  

Using Prior Knowledge

Your prior knowledge of the world determines a lot when you’re reading, especially when you’re planning to read something with a critical mindset. You should ask yourself what ideas about the subject matter you already have based on your prior understanding of the topic. You can then be on the sharp lookout for these ideas to be changed or expanded further.

You should be extra careful not to be subjective in your understanding of the text. While interpreting meaning will depend on your existing knowledge of the ideas, you should keep an open mind and give the author of the text a chance to surprise you.   

Taking Your Time

You cannot forget that reading critically isn’t a process you can speed through. We’ve mentioned you should scan the text to select which parts of it are more important to you than others. While that is a critical step, you have to give proper time and attention to the material you end up reading.

Critical reading can be frustrating, especially if you’re introducing yourself to ideas and concepts you may not be knowledgeable about. In that case, you should not give up too quickly. Take a breather and give yourself time to read slowly or get back to the difficult parts once you gain more understanding of the subject matter.

Using Dictionaries and Other Helpful Tools

You should use today’s technology to your advantage while reading. Looking up difficult vocabulary items or theories you can’t understand from the text you’re reading is a highly effective strategy to employ.

It’s also a great idea to make a list of the topic-specific terminology you encounter. It will aid the overall reading process and make you remember what specific phrases mean as you read on.

Questioning Yourself or Joining Debates

What lies at the core of critical reading is asking yourself all kinds of questions about the text in front of you—and doing it often. Always have a pen or pencil at close reach and jot down any questions you have.

If you can form a reading group or club and engage with people who read the same material as you, then do it! New perspectives can make you see the subtleties of the text you wouldn’t notice on your own or generate more relevant questions worth exploring.

Summarizing and Reviewing

You already know you should annotate while you read. When you’re done, you should have a strategy to review all your notes and put all your ideas together.

Having a reading journal might be an effective tool for sorting everything that comes to your mind during reading. Later, you can review what you scribbled on the material and the summaries you made in your journal. 

Why Is Critical Reading Important—The Benefits

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Being able to engage critically with texts is a skill you need to possess for many different reasons. Here are all the benefits of critical reading and thinking:

  1. Being a better high school student
  2. Achieving academic success
  3. Succeeding at work
  4. Sustaining personal growth and satisfaction
  5. Becoming a better writer
  6. Gaining media literacy

Critical Reading Is a Tool You Need in High School

Whether your high school equips you with tools to develop your critical reading skills properly or not, you need to possess them to achieve success in all your subjects.

You need to analyze classic literature for your English lessons in a way that makes you reach original conclusions about the work you’re discussing. This will result in better essays on the topic that your professors will likely be blown away by.

Critical reading is important for any subject, not just English lit. For example, when you read your textbooks critically, don’t only absorb the information and torture yourself by trying to memorize theories and concepts for tests by heart. Instead, engage with the subject matter actively and analytically and form your own opinions on it. That way, you’ll remember those concepts for life. 

You Can’t Be a Successful College Student Without Having Critical Reading Skills

The benefits of possessing sharp critical reading skills in college are undisputable. No matter what major you choose to study, you will need to read and write academic papers throughout your higher education.

You cannot be a successful student if you take everything you learn about at face value. In college, you will also learn the techniques about how to develop your critical reading and thinking skills. When you know why they are so important, it will make you engage with the subject willingly and with a curious mindset.

How Critical Reading Helps You in Your Career

After you graduate from high school or college, you won’t stop using critical reading and thinking. Employers don’t like people who can’t make their own judgments on a variety of topics.

For example, you may need to learn a new skill at work due to changes in operations. Having the competence to think critically will make it easier to introduce yourself to new concepts, understand their value, and form your ideas on them.

Similarly, you will have tasks at work for which you will constantly need to employ your critical reading abilities, especially if you are in charge of evaluating your team or their performance.

How Critical Reading Helps You Achieve Personal Satisfaction

Learning to read critically is learning to think for yourself. When you’re not merely a passive recipient, you challenge yourself to dive deeper into the matter, gain more wholesome knowledge, and come up with innovative solutions.

Besides making you a better student or professional, critical reading makes you grow your interests, expand your worldview, and make informed judgments on everything you hear about the world. 

Critical Reading and Writing

Working on developing your critical reading abilities improves your writing skills. The two are inevitably connected, and effective writing skills are just as crucial to possess to carve your path to a successful career.

Studying how authors of the material you’re reading put the parts of their text together or what tools they used to send the message across will help you employ different writing strategies yourself and make your own texts more effective in turn.

Critical Reading Is Crucial for Media Literacy

When you’re being bombarded with news and bits of information from all sides, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of trusting any source the news comes from. The other, equally harmful scenario is being confused at contradicting reports on current events and the general climate of things.

The worst part is being fed a slew of misinformation and not knowing what to trust. To develop critical reading skills is to gain media literacy that will help you deal with this problem.

When you’re in the habit of thinking critically, you will take each text you’re reading or the news you’re listening with a grain of salt. Before deciding what is valid and what isn’t, you will learn to question the facts, and this will do much in preventing you from falling under the spell of media lies and confusion.   

Can You Give Any Examples of Critical Reading Skills?

Critical reading is a key skill to possess in the modern world. If you believe that high schools aren’t teaching it properly, why not contribute with your ideas on how we can change that?

Perhaps you can also provide additional examples of critical reading skills. If any of the two is the case, write to us, and we’ll publish your words.

Let’s work together in transforming school culture so that it’s conducive to real-life learning.