Critical Reading: A How-To Guide for High School Students

“Read more carefully!”

Students frequently see these words written in the margins of their essays. But what does it mean to read more carefully or even carefully for that matter? How do you do it?

To read carefully or critically, you need to learn how to engage with the text.  To do so, answer these questions before reading each text:

  1. Why did my teacher ask me to read this?
  2. What interests/intrigues me about this subject/topic?

After reading an assigned text, answer these questions:

  1. What is the question/concern the writer is responding to?
  2. What would a brief but specific three or four sentence summary of this text be?
  3. What is the writer’s point of view on the question/concern?
  4. What are three challenges (counter claims or counter arguments) that might be posed to the argument presented in the text?
  5. How do ideas in this text relate to ideas/debates covered in previous readings/discussions?*

The answers to these questions will not only help you read more critically, but will also help you write faster and with greater clarity.

*AP English and AP History students should also answer a sixth question after reading the assigned text: How does the writer make her/his argument? In other words, what rhetorical devices (aka literary devices, literary figures) does the writer use to help persuade the reader?


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About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.