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Critical Reading at University

What is Critical Thinking and Reading?

We often receive feedback that we should ‘analyse our sources more deeply’, ‘read more widely’, ‘compare and contrast’, ‘analyse rather than describe’, ‘use evidence to support your statements’. These (and many other) phrases all relate to critical thinking and reading, which is the ability to consume information, understand it (and it’s context), think about it’s deeper meaning, evaluate and analyse it, and apply it.

Critical thinking is about having the ability to ask questions of the information you receive. When we use the term ‘critical’ we don’t mean it’s about thinking negatively or criticising something. It’s about assessing and weighing up all the evidence available to you in an organised and rational way, to come to a considered, reasonable judgement that can stand up to scrutiny or argument. 

Critical thinking is not something that only applies to university study. You are critical in your every day decision making. When you decided to apply to university, you will have been critical in deciding first whether to apply, then what subject to study and where to study it! You will have compared different options and made a decision based on balancing many factors and pieces of information. Critical thinking however, does not only apply to making big decisions, it also applies to making smaller ones, such as deciding how to travel to university, what to buy for dinner and what your opinion is on a subject. The key with critical thinking at university is to learn how to apply your every day decision making skills to reading and writing. 

Why do I Need to Learn it?

When you are studying at university, it is important that you don’t take anything at face value and accept it without question – even things your lecturers say! Always question and look deeper – the ability to question and critique information you come across in life is a vital skill, not just to avoid dangerous misinformation but to help you develop a deeper knowledge and understanding. 

Learning to read and think critically can have a great deal of benefits:

  • You will feel better informed and more knowledgeable about the subject.
  • Your ability to work with complex concepts and present them in your work will improve.
  • The quality of your arguments in your work will improve.

How do I Critically Analyse?

Use the critical thinking activities and resources linked on the left hand side of the page to get started. You can also watch or listen to the videos and podcasts linked on the left navigation panel, as they give you a good idea of what critical thinking is and how to develop your skills.

The following pages on Reading at University are inspired by Pritchard, Alan (2008) Studying and Learning at University: Vital Skills for Success in your Degree London: Sage Publications Ltd 

The Critical Thinking Toolkit is a psychometric measure of your beliefs and attitudes about critical thinking. If you follow this link then you can complete the measure. It will give you feedback about your scores, and average responses to the different components of the questions. It also contains a further link that offers advice and strategies for being more critical in your assignments.