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Study Skills

Critical Analysis: Reading Critically

Welcome to the Critical Reading course

This course was originally developed by the Library Team at the University of Manchester and adapted by librarians at Cambridge. 

Overview of the course

The course has five elements to it, each taking between 5 and 15 minutes to complete. We estimate the course will take around 45 minutes in total. 

The course is an opportunity to:

  • learn how to sharpen your techniques for reading scholarly literature effectively.
  • understand and decide on which techniques best suit you to help you to read productively
  • learn a question-based method to help with being critical
  • reflect on your current way of working
  • There is a practical exercise at the end to consolidate the skills which have been taught. 

Scroll down to start the course!

Critical Reading Course : introduction and task

Introduction : 5 minutes

Image and words Click the image to take you to the Video (A transcript is available on the same page as the video)

Once you have watched the video, take 2 minutes to reflect on your current approach.

How critical are you? Do you question the information you read? Do you analyse the text? Do you look for evidence?


The critical student always questions the information, ideas and arguments they come across in their studies. They use evidence to help them form their own opinions, arguments, theories and ideas. They interpret the meaning in a text and identify how this sits within the wider context, both in terms of their own knowledge and their subject area. If you don't feel like you're doing this, don't worry! That's what this course is designed to help you with.

Productive Reading Task : 10 minutes

There are techniques you can use to decide if an article is going to be useful to you and worth reading in full.  Watch the video below to find out more.

image wordsClick the image to take you to the Video (A transcript is available with the video)

Your turn! Read through the sample article below and use a highlighter to mark anything you would like to read again, make a note of anything that you are unsure about. Once you have finished highlighting move to the next section.


  • This task is designed to be a quick read of the article to skim for key points; use the headings, introduction and conclusion, and figures to help you

  • Allow no more than ten minutes on this task. Don't worry if you can't read it all, as we'll come back to this article later

Critical Reading : Putting it into practice

How to read critically - 10 minutes

The key points you have highlighted in the article will help you form an analysis of what you have read. Let's now turn to look at how we can develop our productive reading and read more critically.

Critical reading is about questioning and analysing the text. Before you start reading ask yourself, why am I reading this and what do I want to get out of it? Then think about how the text connects to what you already know. Does the author agree or disagree with other author's viewpoints? What evidence is presented? What is your opinion on their conclusions?  

1. When presented with a scholarly work, there are techniques you can use to ask yourself if you are reading critically. Watch the video below which outlines the questioning technique. 

image and wordsClick the image to take you to the Video (A transcript is available with the video)

2. If you’re engaging in critical reading then no doubt you’ll want to make notes in order to come back to your reading in the future. Here are a few tips to help you do that:

  • The Cornell method (see template below) is accepted as one of the best ways to take notes, whether in lectures or while you’re reading. You use the large middle section to take notes, and then use the smaller left hand column to add commentary or questions, or to relate the piece to other papers. Then the bottom section is for you to summarise as briefly as possible the main points or arguments from this page of notes. This will help you to be able to review your notes quickly and can be useful for writing up, as you’ve generally already paraphrased the main points.
  • The Outline method uses bullet points to organise your notes in a hierarchical structure, making it easy to return to information quickly and see connections.
  • Flashcards and mind maps are another, more visual way to organise your notes. You can do this by hand or use study apps such as GoConqr, iMindMap or StudyBlue to help you.
  • Another great source of information about note making and critical thinking is the Wolfson Study Skills LibGuide. If you want to explore this skill more then it’s a great place to start.
  • Additional tips on note making can be found on CamGuides.

3. Now that you have watched the video, think of ways in which you can organise your notes. Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions: 

  • What kind of tools do you use to take notes? 

  • What has been most useful to you?

  • Going forward how will you organise your notes to be more successful at critical reading?

Next steps for putting your learning into practice: 15 minutes

1. Watch the video below for tips on how to identify the main idea and to help you decide whether you agree with the author's argument. 

image and wordsClick the image to take you to the Video (A transcript is available with the video)

2. A task for you to complete.

Go back to the sample article above that we looked at in the Productive Reading section, and spend around 10 to 15 minutes assessing the author's main ideas. Look in the discussion and conclusion sections to identify 2 or 3 key points. Try to summarise the article's main idea in a few sentences. Try to think of 2 possible titles for the article, one of which is appropriate for an academic journal, and one which you might see on a social media site. The question checklist (link below) goes over the main points covered on the course, and will help with this task. 

3. Share your ideas!

The next step is to share your ideas with others and maybe pick up some tips as well. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers to this exercise – we're just trying to help you to develop your critical reading skills. Please complete this Padlet board with your answers, and take a look at some of the other answers people have given. The Padlet is anonymous and it also gives us a useful insight into your ideas.

To finish..... 

The article's real name can be revealed by clicking on the link below

Thanks for working through this course.

You might like to take the Critical Reading Quiz to check back to see what you have learnt.

Critical Reading : feedback on the course
Excellent: 2 votes (40%)
Very useful: 0 votes (0%)
Good: 3 votes (60%)
I knew this already: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 5

What do I need to know about Critical Reading?

Usually, you can't read all the texts you find on a topic.  You need to make choices and be selective.

Think about choosing quality items and choose reliable and current sources. Try starting with an easy text to give you an overview of the topic.

You could choose one of four main reading strategies. These are:

  • Predicting: making an educated guess about what the text is about before you start to read.
  • Scanning: looking through the text very quickly to look for keywords.
  • Skimming: reading the introduction and the first line of each paragraph to work out what the text is about.
  • Intensive reading: reading a short section of text slowly and carefully.

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