What Is Critical Reading? (Reading Strategies)

Critical Reading

Reading in itself is an already proven way of improving your general knowledge, your mental abilities and even your emotional intelligence. While all these benefits are valid even for those who only read for pleasure, relaxation and entertainment, those who engage in critical reading have been shown to also enjoy a boost of those reading benefits

So, what is critical reading and what are the most common and effective critical reading strategies? Let’s find out together.

What is critical reading?

By its definition, critical reading is a form of language analysis to a certain extent, involving a deeper examination of the text, the ideas, themes and claims presented.

Critical reading involves a higher level of involvement from a reader than recreational reading. The reader is supposed to apply certain theories and thought processes, raise questions and the final result is better comprehension and enhanced clarity. As a process, this means that the reader should always keep an open mind, read slower than usual, pay extra attention, take notes and try to put himself or herself in the shoes of the author’s target audience.

Why is critical reading important & what are the benefits of critical reading?

Critical reading plays an important role in the reader’s development and comes with a plethora of benefits. Even though reading simply for pleasure and as a pass-time activity is an incredibly rewarding activity, critical reading takes things to a new level. Here’s why critical reading is important.

Mental development

One of the most obvious aspects we need to take into consideration when discussing the importance of critical reading is the effect it has on our minds. Like any complex mental task we take on, critical reading is an amazing workout for our brains.

While reading is already known to have a beneficial effect on our brain, critical reading is actually an even better exercise. By getting more involved in the text, taking notes, analyzing more aspects of the language and subtext, more areas of our brain are being activated compared to classical reading. The neuronal connections are being strengthened, new neural paths are built and our brains develop better and faster.

Needless to say, mental development achieved through critical reading can be extremely valuable in many aspects of our lives. 

Better understanding of the text

Somewhat obvious, reading critically has an immensely positive effect on how much, how well and how quickly we understand what we read. While during regular reading quite a lot of skimming occurs, which eventually leads us to inevitably miss out on certain pieces of information we are forced to deduct later from context, critical reading means no stone is left unturned.

Reading critically implies a level of involvement in the activity of reading that doesn’t allow us to skip any unknown words, any connections to other events the author is making, which in turn means that any given sentence, paragraph or section of the text cannot be considered read until the reader understands it 100%.

Critical thinking improvement

Critical thinking is an essential life skill, defined as one’s ability to understand, synthesize, conceptualize, analyze, interpret and evaluate information. What this means is that a critical thinker takes nothing at face value and filters all information through his or her own thought process. 

Critical reading is a powerful tool in developing the necessary mental attributes of a critical thinker. This type of reading is an essential mental exercise through which information read is being analyzed and processed at a much deeper level. 

Any thought, idea or concept expressed by the author needs to be observed, judged and carefully analyzed while critically reading. The same mental process is involved in critical thinking, but that applies to all information received through any other channels, not only reading. Needless to say, being able to distinguish between real and fake news for example is absolutely essential nowadays. That is the power of critical thinking and critical reading is therefore a great means to an end. 

Remembering more from what you read

It’s not unusual for us to forget many parts of what we read. After all, our memory is something we have little to no control over. Our brains normally decide, through processes we are not actively involved in, what information is worth keeping and what can be forgotten.

Best we can do when it comes to our memory is nudge it in the right direction whenever we feel that we absolutely need to remember a certain piece of information. And even though it may sound odd, we do that using tricks.

Tricks like repeating a name several times in order to remember it, writing down essential information, mnemonic devices and many others have been proven effective. 

Critical reading uses some of the same tactics: it is not unusual for a reader to go over the same paragraph several times before being completely sure all the information is understood, a critical reader will often take notes in order to structure the gathered information in a more facile manner.

As mentioned earlier, this process of analyzing the text to a deeper level gets more parts of our brain involved, which in turn tricks it into creating the neuronal connections that are required for remembering a lot more information than you would through regular reading.

Better logical and problem solving skills

Like any mental exercise, critical reading has effects that go way beyond the obvious. While at first glance, it would seem logical for critical reading to have benefits that are strictly related to reading, speech and text comprehension, things are quite different in reality.

Given the strong connection to critical thinking and the way it improves this skill and what an effective brain exercise it is, the ramifications of the critical reading benefits extend over a much larger spectrum: better decision making, a decluttered mind, crisper logic and even an ability to solve problems faster, better and with less effort.

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What are the critical reading strategies & how to read critically?

Now that we know how important critical reading skills are, let’s have a quick look at how to do it and what the best critical reading strategies are.

Step by step critical reading tutorial

  1. Read normally. The first time around, read the given paragraph just to get a rough idea about the theme, main idea. It’s fine to just skim it to get prepared for the next steps.
  2. Read again, more carefully. Read each sentence carefully, trying to understand the main concepts and pay attention to details. Don’t hesitate to repeat this step until you’re comfortable to move on.
  3. Make notes. Write down the important aspects of the text and any particularities that stand out. Make a note of any questions you feel you should be able to answer later. Jot down how the piece of writing makes you feel, whether you agree or not with the points made.
  4. Understand every word. Search for any words you are unfamiliar with, do research about historical events or concepts that are mentioned so you better understand the context. 
  5. Analyze every word. Pay attention to what kind of words are used and try to understand why. Put yourself in the author’s shoes and try to imagine why the ideas or thoughts are expressed using those particular words. Is the author trying to convince you to believe a concept or philosophy, or just trying to entertain you? 
  6. Practice metacognition. Try to understand what you are thinking about what the author is thinking. Challenge the ideas, concepts, decide whether you agree with the author’s point and why. Try to imagine if there could have been a better way for the writer to present those ideas.
  7. Draw your conclusions. Once you are comfortable with the mental process you filtered all the information through, decide for yourself if that particular paragraph was your cup of tea, if you enjoyed reading and analyzing it, what you learned, and to what extent you agree with the writer’s ideas and how he expressed them. 

Critical reading strategies and tools

As you can see, the process of critical reading is pretty complex and could be rather time consuming as well. But considering the rewards, it is well worth your time and trouble. Not only that, but with the right strategies and tools, in time, things can get a lot easier. Reading tracking apps like Basmo can make the process of critical reading a lot more effective and less intimidating. 

Going into the activity of critical reading with the right mindset is essential. Let’s have a look at some important types of critical reading strategies and how Basmo can be of help.

Be organized

While this is one piece of advice that can be considered universally valid, it is especially helpful when it comes to reading critically. Discipline is an invaluable attribute for the critical reader and Basmo can help you develop some really healthy reading habits.

The app allows you to set yourself a reading schedule, easily customizable, with the possibility to set different times for reading every day, according to your needs.

Not only that, but it will also send you notifications whenever it’s time for a reading session.

That way, you will never miss a scheduled reading session and in time, you will develop healthy habits, turning you into a more organized and therefore efficient reader.

Don’t read before bed

Even though it may seem obvious, it’s worth mentioning that active, or critical reading is not an activity you will want to get involved in before bed. We know that reading before bed has certain benefits, but critical reading is a much more complex process.

Critically reading before bed can mean that you are either too tired to perform the best analysis or that this intense thinking process won’t let you fall asleep too quickly. Again, use Basmo to schedule your reading sessions at the right time every day.

Annotate

As mentioned above, note taking is essential for the process of critical reading. Whether it’s underlining key words or phrases, jotting down some of your own ideas about the text or highlighting the words that best express the essence of a certain paragraph, that is an important step of the process.

Luckily, Basmo can help with all that. You can say goodbye to ruined books and countless paper notes you can barely keep track of. With Basmo, your smartphone becomes a valuable little wizard.

While a reading session is ongoing, Basmo allows you to take notes directly on your mobile device. All you need to do is type your thoughts, observations and they will be automatically saved. Not only that, but you can also edit and format the notes however you see fit. That way, you will be a lot more organized.

When it comes to annotating, while most people still do it directly on their books, ruining them, Basmo users have the amazing opportunity to do that digitally. 

Thanks to the page scanner feature, Basmo can help you create digital copies of the page or paragraph you are critically reading, directly through your phone’s camera.

Once the page is scanned, you can either extract the text and start making your annotations.

Needless to say, this feature has several other benefits, including seamless quote saving.

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Contextualize

Understanding a text can usually be a lot easier to do if you have the right idea about the time and place it was written in. Whenever you critically read, try to do some research about the author, where he lived and when he wrote the book you’re reading. This may give you some valuable insight.

Reflect

Believe it or not, critical reading doesn’t actually start and end the second you open the book or close it. Reflecting on what you read even after the reading session is over is also part of the process, and an important one for that matter. 

Basmo can be of great help in this stage as well, because thanks to the fact you almost always have your phone nearby, you can simply pick it up and write your thoughts. 

Conclusion

There you have it, the complete guide to critical reading and its benefits. It may seem intimidating at first, but always keep in mind that with constant work, dedication and the right tools, you can do it and enjoy the rewards.

Speaking of the right tools, don’t hesitate to give Basmo a chance. It can work wonders for your reading experience.

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