Reading and Listening Critically

Critical reading and listening are activities that require communicators tomove beyond superficial engagementandanalysiswith a text or speaker. This handout is designed to explain the benefits of developing critical reading and listening skills, and it provides concrete strategies you can use in the classroom or during research.

Critical reading

Critical reading is an important activity inevaluatingwritten arguments. It helps with the following activities:

  • Examiningthe evidence and logic
  • Assessingexternal influences on the argument
  • Investigatingthe limitations of the study or text
  • Evaluatingthe interpretation and facts presented
  • Decidingto what extent you accept the validity of the argument and conclusion

While many people undertake reading as a passive activity (by simply scanning the text), you can get more from your readings when youactively engagewith the presented material. Critical reading offers the following benefits:

  • It promotescomprehension and absorptionof material
  • It provides acontextfor facts, events, and people
  • It ensures that knowledge is judged on itsmerits
  • It improvesconcentration
  • It demonstrates your ability to perform anessential academic skill

Passive reading vs. critical (active) reading

Passive reading

  • Purpose:basic grasp of a text

  • Activity:absorbing; understanding

  • Focus:what a text says

  • Questions:What information does the text have? What information can I get out of the text?

  • Direction:accepting the text

  • Purpose:restatement; summary

Active reading

  • Purpose:judgments about how a text works

  • Activity:analyzing; interpreting; evaluating

  • Focus:what a text does and means

  • Questions:How does the text work? How is it argued? What choices does the author make? What patterns are present? What kinds of reasoning and evidence are used? What are the underlying assumptions? What does the text mean?

  • Direction:challenging the text

  • Purpose:description; interpretation; evaluation

Steps in critical reading

  1. Skimming
    • Reviewtext prior to class
    • Look atkey words,titles,headings,phrases,dates, andplaces
  2. Annotating
    • Read actively: talk back to the text
    • Writenotesin the margins
    • Underlineimportant ideas
    • Highlightmemorable images
    • Markthesisandkey words
    • Underlinesources
    • Identifyconfusing sections
  3. Summarizing
    • Paraphrasethe overall idea
    • Selectkey wordsfrom the text
    • Outline the writer'sarguments
  4. Analyzing
    • Determine the overallmeaningof the text
    • Consider whether and howevidencerelates to the overall message
    • Evaluatethe significance of the evidence
    • Pair youranalysiswithexamples/evidence
    • Judge thecredibilityof the text and its author(s)
  5. Re-reading
    • First reading:skimfor main ideas
    • Second reading:reflecton text
    • Third reading:answerquestions

Critical listening

It is as important to listen critically as it is to read critically. Critical listening is a process forunderstandingwhat is said andevaluating,judging, andforming an opinionon what you hear. The listenerassessesthe strengths and weaknesses of the content,agreesordisagreeswith the information, andanalyzesandsynthesizesmaterial.

Critical listening strategies

  • Findareas of interestin the material you're listening to
  • Reserve judgment: recognize youremotional biases
  • Work at listening:mentally summarizeandreviewwhat is being said,organizeinformation, and findconnectionsto what you already know
  • Avoiddistractions(internal or external)
  • Listen for and notemain ideas; focus oncentral themes