How will critical reading help you get into Harvard?
How will critical reading help you get into Harvard?


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10 Must-Have Skills for a Harvard University Student


Skill number 4. critical reading  

Despite the small number of courses per semester, Harvard students learn a lot. Basically, the success of the mastered material is assessed by the results of practical tasks, projects and cases, and the theory is studied by students independently in the format of extensive (multiple) reading. And here you can not do without the skill of critical reading!

What does it mean to read critically?

Unlike fiction, plunging into which we get aesthetic pleasure from the author's skill in using literary techniques, from the complexity of storylines and the ambiguity of characters, critical reading of academic texts can be compared to a surgical operation. Academic texts mainly include research publications, case studies, reports, dissertations, and others, the purpose of which is to share new theories and research with the scientific community. Depending on the academic field and type of text, it is expected to use certain terminology and vocabulary, style and organization of the text.

What is the “critical” aspect of academic reading skill?

Critical reading involves the ability to evaluate the materiality and validity of arguments and evidence, the ability to identify limitations associated with the theories and ideas presented, the ability to question facts and conclusions, and the ability to express a reasoned point of view regarding the presented article. Thus, critical reading involves a rigorous analysis of a scientific text, in which there is no place for “artistic imagery” and entertainment. How can you effectively and stress-free cope with home reading, if its volumes reach 100 pages of scientific articles, each of which requires careful study?

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Photo of homework for reading scientific articles for one lesson

If English is a foreign language for you and you have experienced learning general English so far:

First of all, it is necessary to learn how to read and understand academic texts effectively. The development of academic reading skills belongs to the field of academic English (Academic English, English for Academic Purposes). As part of such a course, you will simultaneously master the written style of academic English and vocabulary, study the types and methods of organizing academic texts, master the skill of conducting basic research and citation. Since academic reading is based on strategies such as text scanning, you will develop a speed reading skill that will allow you to extract the main semantic organization of the text into a clear logical structure in a short time. Such a skill is certainly important in learning, as it will allow you to keep the essence of the article in long-term memory.

By the way, it is the assessment of such academic skills that underlies the verbal part of international testing. TOEFLGRE и GMAT. Therefore, preparation for these tests involves the study of academic English. If you have previously dealt with ordinary English, do not be surprised that at first it will be difficult and unusual. Many foreign students go through such a painful process, since the syntax (structure) of the English and Russian languages ​​is different. And in order to recognize and see the logical organization of the English language, it is necessary to rebuild the work of a stable neural network (default mode). And that takes a lot of practice and time.

It is important to understand here that since the skill of academic and critical reading refers to cognitive skills of a higher order, the duration of their development will depend on many personal factors, such as the level of logical thinking, experience in learning foreign languages, age, general level of intellectual preparation, etc. d.

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Having mastered the skill of academic reading, you can move on to practicing critical reading. It is immediately worth clarifying that a “critical” assessment does not imply a mandatory negative connotation. At its core, critical reading means a deeper analysis of an argument, opinion or theory, understanding the structure of the author's argument. It is this deep understanding that will allow a more thorough analysis of the logic of the arguments and the validity of the facts used.

The skill of academic and critical reading will greatly save your time by increasing your level of understanding. Other strategies that enable students to deal with large volumes of reading include:

  • purposeful reading (orientation to certain questions or topics of interest to you)
  • prioritization of material based on their goals and issues
  • careful scanning of the introductory and concluding parts to identify the focus of reading and many others.

The skill of academic and critical reading is so important and challenging, especially for international students, that Harvard University and many others provide mandatory training on this topic as part of their mandatory orientation at the beginning of the year. In addition, if you continue to experience reading discomfort, you can always sign up for one-on-one classes at the Student Resource Center.

The skill of critical reading will improve your writing skills in parallel, but more on that later. In the meantime, I offer your attention speed reading test in English followed by a test for the effectiveness of comprehension. If you see that there is something to strive for, you can always improve this skill by choosing the appropriate training! 

Author: Evgenia Efremova, Master's student at Harvard University  
and academic director Global Ambassador  


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