Did Game of Thrones end well or not? A lesson in Critical Reading with Adekiite
I remember not everyone liked the ending of the popular TV drama series- Game of Thrones (GOT). I haven’t seen it to date (I’m a bit of a movie pariah) but heard many of the fans would have preferred one of the lead characters, Jon, taking on and being recognised as the true king and hero of Westeros, Aegon Targaryen. While this opinion of some fans as shared on social media is not exactly the point of this blog, the fact that they had such opinions on the ending as to be somewhat disappointed when it ended differently meant they engaged well with the characters and plot of the earlier episodes. This is where my point begins.
As a critical reader, you are expected to have an opinion on what you read just like the watchers of Game of Thrones. You are expected to be able to predict the outcome of academic material and then weigh the evidence in its introduction and body, much like the fans of GOT would weigh earlier episodes of the drama, to see if the conclusion is justified.
To read critically, you must first be able to select sources critically. This is called an active reading approach which means engaging your brain to think about what you want to read before, during and after reading. Now, I know it is all beginning to read like a palindrome, so, let’s break it down.
Usually, you can’t read all the texts you find on a topic, or even everything suggested on the usual long reading lists of grad school. You need to make choices and be selective. Opt for quality and not quantity and choose reliable and current sources. It is also recommended that you start with an easy text to give you an overview of the topic.
After selection, the next step is to choose not just to read to reproduce the idea or piece of information you get from the material, but rather to understand it, question it, reflect on it, and then apply it to a particular purpose. Here are some of the ways to do that:
Before– have a clear purpose
You should ask yourself, why am I reading this text? Think about whether, why and how you are going to read a particular article and whether, why and how you are going to make notes.
Before you start to read something in detail, make some predictions about what you expect to find. Predictions and expectations will help you engage your brain.
During– build a scaffold
Always try to link what you read to what you already know about the subject, how it relates to other topics and how it relates to your own life experience. This is important as you need to build a knowledge scaffold in your mind onto which you can attach new information.
During– engage with and challenge the author
Treating that academic piece as a Game of Thrones episode might be worthwhile. Who is the writer, is he an academic expert? Why have they written the text? What do they hope to achieve? What are the main arguments? Is it justified? What are your thoughts after putting together new and old information gathered from previous reading and other experiences? React to what you read and challenge the author. When reading and analysing a source closely, you can use this set of critical thinking questions (PDF) to help you engage critically. Spreeder is an online tool useful for skim-reading text whilst still understanding the context. You can adjust the number of words presented and the reading speed of your text, helping you to improve your reading speed.
After– review it and use it
Once you have read and made notes on something, don’t just put it away, never to look at it again. Review, rework, use and reuse what you have learnt.
Critical reading skills, like every other academic skill, can be learned. However, it takes practice to build your reading stamina and achieve perfection. Keep at it, don’t give up!
Jeanne Godfrey. 2014. Reading & Making Notes. Second Edition. ISBN 978-0230-21605-1. MacMillan Publishers, Britain.
Cottrell, S. 2003. The Study Skills Handbook. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave
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