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. 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; C
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.
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.