How to Become a Critical Thinker and Reader
A term that is often thrown around but never truly fully understood is “critical thinking”. Schools and tuition centres purport to develop this “soft skill”, but unlike content knowledge, it cannot be taught – it must be picked up over time with exercises conducive to it.
Critical thinking is the ability to question the information a student absorbs, relate it to what they know, and synthesise new information based on the information absorbed. Students read a comprehension passage to discover new things, critique the information presented to them, and answer questions based on the information. These require students to be a critical reader.
A skill needed when reading a passage is “reading between the lines”, which is a metaphor for ascertaining the context of a particular word or phrase given the surrounding passage. Although seemingly easier said than done, students need to read the sentences before and after a certain word or phrase. Comprehension questions usually feature one or two questions which ask the student what a word or phrase means.
Context is highly important is reading comprehension, as it is in many facets of life. Context sets the background – what is the setting of the passage? Who are the characters involved? What are they doing? Are they doing something good, or bad? What happens to them in the end? These are crucial questions a good critical reader must ask when reading the passage, highlighting the relevant details to come back to them when answering questions.
Being a critical reader involves the use of logic to draw the appropriate conclusions from the passage read. The skill of inference, inductive and deductive reasoning are the hallmarks of a good critical reader, who will be able to draw logical conclusions from the actions and the events in the passage. Students need to practice this skill by thinking of the cause and effects of the events in the passage and relating it to real life.
Critical thinking will enable a student to relate the contents of the passage to their own lives. Sometimes, the passage will be set in a different country with very different social norms and scenery, which will be difficult to imagine in a local setting. However, the student should find the common elements in the passage and think about how similar or different they are to their own lives. By doing this, students will be able to critically comment on the passage – is there anything relatable about the character, or is the character rather strange?
Moreover, a good critical thinker will be able to place themselves in the shoes of others. If the events in the passage happened to them, how would they feel? How do the tone, facial expressions, and body language of characters in the story show how they feel? Students should be observant and highlight these “cues” to tell them how the character is reacting to the events happening in the passage. By knowing how the character feels, students can be critical and comment on the passage and the characters when answering the questions.
Lastly, a good critical thinker can use their imagination. A child’s imagination is a powerful tool, and it can be developed by daydreaming, playing make-believe, and interacting with their friends who are of a similar age. When a student reads a passage, they can imagine the ending of a passage – how would the events turn out? Did the ending meet their expectations, or did the student think that it would end differently? By figuring out the answers to these questions, the student can critically comment on the denouement (the climax) of the story.
Critical thinking and reading are essential skills for improving one’s reading comprehension and scoring well on reading comprehension tests.
Here is how critical reading can help you achieve higher grades:
Understanding the Passage: Critical thinking and reading involves actively engaging with the text, understanding its main ideas, characters, and even supporting evidence. By critically reading the passage, students will be able to grasp the author’s intended message more effectively. This understanding is crucial for answering questions accurately and efficiently.
Analysing Structure and Organisation: Critical thinking and reading helps students to identify the structure and organization of a passage. Students are able to recognize the introduction, main body, and conclusion, as well as any transitional elements or key rhetorical devices used by the author. This analysis aids in comprehending the passage’s flow and logic, allowing one to answer questions related to the passage’s structure.
Recognising Tone and Style: Critical thinking and reading involves paying attention to the author’s tone and style of writing. By understanding the author’s tone, whether it is persuasive, informative, or critical, students gain insights into their purpose and intention. This awareness aids in answering questions related to the author’s attitude or the overall tone of the passage.
Developing Active Reading Strategies: Critical thinking and reading encourages active reading strategies, such as annotating the text, summarizing main ideas, highlighting important details, and asking questions while reading. These strategies enhance your focus, engagement, and retention of information, making it easier to answer questions accurately.
Practicing Time Management: By improving your critical thinking and reading skills, you will be able to read and comprehend passages more efficiently. This efficiency allows you to allocate sufficient time for answering questions and reduces the chances of rushing through the test. Proper time management is vital for maximizing your score on reading comprehension tests.
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