Why critical reading matters

Though academic reading may seem like an unrewarding exercise, it makes one analytical and creative

September 21, 2019 11:44 am | Updated 11:45 am IST

Book in library with open textbook,education learning concept

Book in library with open textbook,education learning concept

The increased pressure to achieve high scores in standardised tests compels students to focus more on the probable content expected in the test. This, eventually, would prompt them to cram the content in isolation without understanding and learning concepts. In fact, the acquisition of concepts and the creative processing of conceptual knowledge are possible by reading academic texts. Academic reading can contribute to the development of all aspects of skills required for both academic and professional growth.


Teaching to test has become quite a common practice in academia because grades and scores decide the calibre of students, and this impels them to cram the stuff without comprehending concepts, thereby becoming less creative. Such learning forbids them from learning, challenging theories and concepts to avoid the risk of getting low scores in exams, and eventually resulting in the acquisition of shallow knowledge. However, this approach to learning may not allow them to think for themselves and further, it may deteriorate the thinking skills. In order to make students be analytical, critical and creative, they must be motivated to do more academic reading.


Academic/critical reading is an active engagement with meaning that involves cognitive processes such as analysing, evaluating, interpreting, and synthesising. When we read academic texts, we relate different ideas, reorganise them in novel ways to come up with new ideas, and even relate them with personal experiences to gain further insights into theories, facts and concepts. The creative engagement with meaning, positively affects both language and conceptual knowledge. Further, the reading would facilitate the brain to generate new ideas, and in the process, it subconsciously generates new language structures.

In order for academic reading to happen effectively, readers need to first skim the text to grasp key themes, concepts and arguments, as it provides appropriate content for reading. Since academic reading is critical and analytical in nature, it requires in-depth reading of concepts, sometimes re-reading for better and clear understanding, and even negotiation with the content to have deeper insights. If the reading content is difficult to understand, readers can pause and reflect on what they have read and can further reorganise it for better comprehension to read continuously. This enables them to perform better even on high-stakes standardised tests, in addition to the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Since academic reading is about the active engagement with meaning, a reader should focus only on the meaning, and not on the grammar of the language. In fact, focusing on grammatical aspects impedes the understanding of the text and eventually discourages one from reading.

Reading academic texts may be an unrewarding experience for novice readers as they can have difficulty understanding complex academic writing styles. Such readers must be encouraged to read recreational books as, light reading makes academic reading easier.

Reciprocal relation

Academic reading improves writing, which in turn improves reading as there is an undeniable connection between the two. When we write, we read to gain deep knowledge on the subject because writing is a composing process which requires knowledge of the subject at a deeper level. Further, when writing, we use our current knowledge and present it using creative and analytical abilities gained by reading. Therefore, students must be encouraged to write while reading.

In order to reap the benefits of reading, quality reading programmes must be conducted in schools and colleges because in-class reading develops a positive attitude towards reading which, in turn, will prompt students to do more out-of-school reading.

The writer is associate professor and Head, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi.

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