For any A-Level General Paper JC student, the term “Critical Reading” would not seem foreign to them, their teachers would have definitely thrown the term around before. However, the word isn’t as chim as you think it is.
But what exactly does “Critical Reading” entail, and how can you use it to get an A1 for the H1 General Paper, come this December? We’ll explore this concept in this article.
Firstly, what is Critical Reading?
Critical Reading may be defined as being a more active approach to reading, engendering a deeper and more complex engagement with a text. Through a process involving textual analysis, interpretation and evaluation, as well as questioning the content of the text, one gains more profound insight into the text.
But how does that descriptive and broad definition translate into something more applicable to the General Paper? There are 2 distinct tracks within which Critical Reading applies to the General Paper; Content gathering and Paper 2 Reading.
Content gathering is when a student is building his repertoire of information to tackle both Paper 1 and the AQ in Paper 2. While one is often told to read up news and reports to gain information, merely having a data bank of information is insufficient. Regurgitation of numerous examples adds little value to an essay or AQ in Cambridge’s eyes. What does, however, is critical insight and analysis attached to said examples. That’s where critical reading comes into play. If one approaches content gathering with an evaluative, analytical, interpretive and questioning lens, he is bound to unlock the deeper significance of examples and content that he reads, promoting higher order understanding of content, beyond mere memorization. This understanding is subsequently reflected in his scripts, where there is consistent demonstration of profound insight in his writing. This is opposed to passive reading which many students engage in, which has a summative aim and results only in memorization of examples and little else.
Having established why critical reading is important for content gathering, here’s a simple approach for students to begin to incorporate critical reading into their GP study routines; SQ3R.
- Survey involves quick perusal of the text in its entirety, to gain the overview of it. This is important to identify the broad strokes of the text, which aids in the next step.
- Having understood the broad ideas of the text, one can now formulate questions with respect to the text. This gives a tangible objective to the act of reading, as one seeks to find answers to asked questions. It also helps with retention.
- Now, one reads the text critically, with the aforementioned evaluative, analytical, interpretive and questioning lens, sieving out answers to the questions asked before and picking out other salient or interesting points raised.
- This activity is only useful if the information can be easily recalled for use during essay writing, either as assignments or in the exam hall. Thus, writing down key points learnt or answers to the questions asked in one’s own words aid tremendously in retention of content, and facilitate greater understanding. It also helps to keep focus while reading, knowing that the information needs to be recalled later on.
- This final step is important to establish the deeper level of understanding previously discussed. Here is where notes and key ideas are reviewed, and further questions asked. These further questions probe why certain claims were made or why certain examples/statistics are the way they are. Asking and answering these “why” questions are paramount to establish deep understanding of content. Of course, such answers to the “whys” should be penned down as well.
Paper 2 also requires an element of Critical reading, however its overarching aim is not just content understanding and retention, but rather understanding the content/arguments and the reasons why the author has made the arguments and presented them the way he has. This requires a slightly different approach fro SQ3R. Here, we’ll adopt the Analyze, Interpret, Evaluate Approach. This approach revolves asking certain questions to help ascertain the author’s perspective in his writing, facilitating understanding of the text for the SAQs and AQ.
- Analysis: What are the Patterns of the Text
In this step, one engages in understanding the arguments that the author has made. Below are some guiding questions;
- What is the thesis or overall theory?
- What are the supporting points that create the argument? How do they relate to each other? How do they relate to the thesis?
- What are the examples used as evidence for the supporting points? How do they relate to the points they support? To each other? To the thesis?
- What techniques of persuasion are used (appeals to emotion, reason, authority, etc.)?
- What rhetorical strategies are used (e.g. definition, explanation, description, narration, elaboration, argumentation, evaluation)?
- What modes of analysis are used (illustration, comparison/contrast, cause and effect, process analysis, classification/division, definition)?
- Interpretation: What is the Significance of those Patterns
In this step, one attempts to understand the reasons why the author has made these arguments, in particular showing an understanding of the author’s context and perspective. This is useful to draw comparisons from in the AQ, between the author’s and our society. Below are some guiding questions;
- What debates were the author and the text engaging with at that time?
- What kinds of reasoning (historical, psychological, political, philosophical, scientific, etc) are employed?
- What methodology is employed and what theory is developed?
- How might my reading of the text be biased? Am I imposing 21st century ideas or values on the text? If so, is this problematic?
- Evaluation: How well does the text do what it does? What is its value?
- Here, one attempts to evaluate the strength and effectiveness of the author’s arguments, largely with the aim of identifying weak links in arguments. These weak links may be exploited in the AQ in critiquing the author’s arguments. Below are some guiding questions;
- How does it contribute to the discipline? Are its main conclusions original?
- Does the evidence and reasoning adequately support the theory/theories presented?
- Are the sources reliable?
- Is the argument logically consistent? Convincing?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the theory?
- How would competing theories criticize this text? How could the author reply?
Finally, for Paper 2, given the time constraint and need for deep textual analysis, students might find prudent to jot down quick analytical notes in the margin of the insert, as well as quickly summarizing the key idea of each paragraph for easy referencing later on as questions are being attempted.
In conclusion, we showed you how critical reading is useful within the GP subject to facilitate understanding and improve performance in the subject. The one key here is to consistently practice and apply these techniques. While difficult at first, the key point here is to persevere; it will only get better as one continues to practice and employ these skills! Happy (critical) reading!