Why Do So Many Students Struggle with Critical Reading?

Why do so many students struggle with the reading sections of standardized examinations? And almost all of them

[standardized exams] do have such sections; the MCAT has the Verbal Reasoning section; the DAT has the Reading Comprehension section; the GMAT has the Verbal Section (which consists of Reading Comprehension, Verbal Reasoning, and Sentence Correction); and the SAT has the Critical Reading section. Why do the creators of these exams include such sections? And what does it mean to read critically?

critical thinkingFirst let’s define what non-critical reading is: it is simply reading to learn a fact or an accepted interpretation of something (whether it be a theorem or an event). For example, a biology student opens his textbook to memorize the process of Glycolysis. There is no interpretation of the author’s perspective on the subject – the student simply accepts what the author has written, memorizes it, and recalls the same perspective when he needs to.

So then, it would follow that critical reading is when you not only read something, but you analyze it’s [the author’s] perspective, how that perspective was portrayed, whether there is supportive evidence, and the meaning. For example, a student reads an article in the Science Journal in which the author says that HIV is ‘no longer a devastating disease.’ The student asks himself [as he reads] the following questions:

– What is the author’s purpose by making this statement?

– What examples or statistics does he use to support this statement.

– What is his tone and what persuasive elements does he use to get his point of view across?

– Is there any bias?

By asking these analytical questions, the student is able to decipher the meaning of the whole passage and to use that information to answer any questions which ask for inferring based on the evidence within the passage.

So, you can see why critical reading would be such an important skill in any field. In medicine and dentistry you are presented with vast amounts of information on a daily basis that you must be able to critically read and think about quickly; same thing in business or law. This is why all the standardized exams test students on it.

But, the main question is: Why do so many students struggle on these sections?

I think that there are a few reasons for this:

– Most students in our educational system are simply exposed to mainly text books as reading material. Text books are hard to critically read, since almost everything they present is an accepted interpretation or fact. All a student has to do is memorize

– Most students who don’t get exposure to literature, arts, philosophy, humanities, and the social sciences have little interest in reading such material. These are the vast majority of the students who are in pre-medical or pre-dental majors. They can usually ace the science sections of the exams, but panic when they see the reading sections.

– The abstract terminology and convoluted sentence structure in reading material, from the above mentioned fields, is a huge turn-off to students. Indeed, it’s frustrating to read a sentence and then not have a clue about what it means.

critical thinking-textbookSo, how do we help students who want to ace these sections of the standardized exams? The best way is the old “tried, tested, and true” method: practice, practice, and practice some more! When I have students who are weak in this area (which is almost always), I give them a strategy to attack the passage – which I have outlined for the MCAT (a similar strategy can be used for any exam). Then I tell them to practice every single day – it’s like training a muscle – you have to get your mind to critically read all the time. I call it, “staying in the zone” for critical reading. Become familiar with the type of reading material you don’t like the most – the abstract material. My students usually realize that the material isn’t so bad and with practice their scores on these sections, increase dramatically.

This article was written by Ms. Mody of Exammasters. Check their site out for some more great MCAT tips. If you liked this type of article, let us know!

By | 2017-08-15T06:45:43+00:00 October 1st, 2014|News|0 Comments

Leave A Comment