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Student Toolkit: How to Read Critically

Guest Editor - Bradford A. Rogers

Being able to read critically, thoroughly, and efficiently is an important skill in any student's arsenal. Follow the steps below and, whether you're reading for online education, a college course, or for personal enjoyment, you'll be prepared to get the most out of your time spent reading.

Read for Class

For reading directed toward the classroom, online or not, the key to efficient comprehension is to approach the reading in stages. First, skim through the reading to get a general feel for the ideas presented. Orient yourself with writer's argument so that you are prepared to reference specific sections of the reading as they are brought up in class. Whether your class is a lecture or discussion based course, you then will be able to tie your class notes back to the reading. Finally, read through the assignment again after the class to reinforce your understanding of the material, referencing and refining your notes as you go. In this case, its helpful to own the book that contains the reading or at least have a physical print-out so that you can underline or highlight relevant sections of the reading. Also make sure to keep track of any thoughts or questions you might have about the reading in your notes or in the margins as you read.

Read for an Assignment

If your reading is directed toward a specific assignment (in most cases an essay or something similar) and you have read effectively for class, you may then add an additional stage to your reading process. Assuming your assignment is an essay, read the prompt carefully and consider how it may be tied back to the reading. Skim over the document again to re-familiarize yourself with the writer's argument and to get a good idea of what sections may be salient for your argument. Then, read through the sections that look most applicable for your assignment paying close attention to the details and nuances of the argument and how it may apply to your topic. As you read, pull out quotes that may be helpful in supporting your own essay's argument. Keep reading until you feel you have adequate textual support for your paper. Be sure to properly cite any and all ideas taken from the reading so as to protect yourself from plagiarism (you can read more about avoiding plagiarism here).

Read for Yourself

Reading for classes and assignments can often be stressful and tedious, and the aforementioned tips can help you get through it expediently. However, the most important asset to a student for getting through reading assignments is passion. Take a vested interest in your classes' reading and the knowledge it contains: try to see the assignments as an opportunity to learn and hone new information that will only serve to benefit you as a student, rather than as a time-consuming chore for the benefit of your teacher. If you can start reading for yourself and your enjoyment rather than for your class, there is no reading assignment imaginable that can stand between you and an A.