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Skidmore College
Student Academic Services Tips


TIPS: Study Skills and Strategies

How to Read Critically

  • Think about the overall purpose of the course, the professor's stated expectations, and your own level of preparedness. Give yourself a head start: you may need to review, do some research, or seek your professor's or a tutor's assistance if you find that you need help with biographical, historical or discipline-based vocabulary or foundations.
  • Ensure that you take good class notes, which can help provide a structure and a context for required readings. Find the relationships among the lecture, the notes and the text. Do they support one another? Cover different perspectives? Expand on lecture concepts after class, jotting down a few "big-picture" notes to accompany the details covered by your professor.
  • Question the place of each reading or text in a given course. Is the placement chronological? By point of view? By culture? Determine the structure of the text: in what sequence are points made? Become familiar with your texts, noting publication dates, biographical information on the author, preface, index, glossary, appendix, and the role of each. Think through the role of each type of reading, chapter headings, visual aids, marginal guides, and exercises; how does each component function?
  • Come to an understanding of the text and the way it uses language. Explain word meanings, word usage, and note any specialized vocabulary of this discipline. This may be the level of language expected of you for tests and papers, or it may be atypical, a contrasting style.
  • Is the author stressing a thesis? Is it proven or argued? What is the logic of the argument?
  • Transcend highlighting by "having a conversation" with the text. Write your own words in the margins and in notebooks, where it will be possible to annotate and attempt to make connections and locate material in relation to other ideas, including connections with previous class material. If there is one main perspective, ensure that you outline that view as you read. Try a two-column note-taking format (the left column for the author's views and facts as presented, the right column for your comments and questions). Note ways to find the author's solutions to each problem. If opposing viewpoints are entertained, note how they are included. This dialogue will act as a way to maximize text recall, understanding, and critical thinking.
  • Pursue external ideas referred to in the text or in class notes. (When Peirce argues against the ideas of Descartes, Descartes needs to be explored). But be careful to distinguish between what might be worth pursuing further and what might become a distraction.
  • Question yourself as you study for tests and quizzes to focus your thinking on possible applications of the material. Go beyond the text.
  • Keep an exacting account of quoted material, pertinent phrases, and any paraphrases so the citations will be accurate when you are collecting source material for a paper.
  • Select notes and create study methods according to the expected assessment (multiple choice exams, short answer, essay exams, papers or presentations). Integrate reading with lectures or labs where needed. Vocabulary lists and 3x5 cards are valuable for studying, as are oral quizzes. You may need to return to study questions at the end of chapters or to recommended readings.
  • Select appropriate places to study and read, and review study schedules for "free" times in the day that could be study times.