How do you need critical reading skills when entering Harvard?
How do you need critical reading skills when entering Harvard?


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10 Required Student Skills at Harvard University


Skill number 4. Critical reading  

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

What does reading critical mean?

Unlike fiction, plunging into which we get aesthetic pleasure from the author's skill in using literary techniques, from the complexity of the plot lines and the ambiguity of the characters, critical reading of academic texts can be compared to a surgical operation. Academic texts mainly include research publications, cases, 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 the type of text, it is assumed that certain terminology and vocabulary, style and organization of the text are used.

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

Critical reading involves the ability to assess 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 submitted article. Thus, critical reading presupposes a scrupulous analysis of a scientific text, in which there is no place for "artistic image" and entertainment. How can home reading be effectively and stress-free when home reading is as large as 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 so far you have encountered learning general English:

First of all, you need to learn how to effectively read and understand academic texts. 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, learn the types and methods of organizing academic texts, and master the skill of conducting basic research and citation. Since academic reading is based on such strategies as, for example, the ability to scan text, you will develop the skill of speed reading, which will allow you to quickly isolate the main semantic organization of the text into a clear logical structure. Such a skill is certainly important in training, as it will allow you to keep the essence of the article in a 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, the 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 this requires considerable practice and time.

It is important to understand here that since academic and critical reading skills are cognitive skills of a higher order, the duration of their development will depend on many personality 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 training critical reading. It should be clarified right away that a “critical” assessment does not imply an obligatory negative connotation. Essentially, critical reading means a deeper analysis of an argument, opinion or theory, an understanding of the structure of the author's argumentation. It is this deep understanding that will allow a more thorough analysis of the consistency of arguments and the validity of the facts used.

Academic and critical reading skills will greatly save your time by increasing your understanding. Other strategies that allow students to cope with large volumes of reading include:

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

The skill of academic and critical reading is so important and complex, especially for international students, that Harvard University and many others conduct compulsory training on this topic as part of a compulsory orientation at the beginning of the year. In addition, if you continue to experience reading discomfort, you can always sign up for individual lessons at the Student Resource Center.

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

Author: Evgenia Efremova, graduate student at Harvard University  
and academic director of Global Ambassador  


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