Reading with Purpose

Return to Reading and Note-making

Reading EfficiencySkimmingLevels of ThinkingFour Levels of QuestionsCritical Reading Checklist

Reading Efficiency

Students with a great deal of reading to complete may be tempted to “speed read.” It’s more important to keep in mind your purpose for reading, and then to read accordingly. The relationship between reading speed and comprehension is paramount. Read too fast and you will comprehend less. Read too slow and you might fall behind in your readings. There are, however, some strategies to boost your reading efficiency.

  • During the first read through, try to grasp overall concepts rather than understanding all the details.
  • Create a glossary of key words as you read.
  • Focus your attention and concentration. Read for shorter periods of time, if that helps.
  • Eliminate outside distractions (noise, email, etc)
  • Prepare an uncluttered, comfortable environment.


What is skimming?

  • Purpose: to preview and get an overview of the text and its content
  • Extracting the gist of the material without focusing on the details
  • Skipping non-essential or less-essential material in favour of the big picture

When should I skim read?

  • To make use of my background knowledge
  • To get the general idea of the article/chapter
  • To discern main points and significant detail
  • To set work/reading priorities

What do I look for when I skim?

  • Text presentation: headings, numbers, graphics, type style and size, punctuation
  • Answers to questions: who, what, when, where, why, how
  • Direction words & phrases: for example, “however” = idea is taking another direction; “furthermore”  = the preceding thought is still being discussed
  • Relational words & phrases: e.g. “similarly”, “consequently ”
  • Organization: cause/effect; chronological; concession argument; compare/contrast
  • Statements of purpose: “This paper investigates how China and India have emerged as the new Asian Tigers of the world economy.”
  • Statements of propositions: “The economies of China and India will overgrow those of Europe by 2020.”
  • Statements of conclusions: “The economic boom in China and India will probably continue because…”

Levels of Thinking

Reading and learning at university requires students to think more deeply — beyond rote memorization is understanding, conceptualization, evaluation, and creation. Keywords in texts (i.e., readings, course materials) can signal the type of thinking required.
pyramid of bloom's taxonomy

Memorize: Most basic level of thinking; forms the base of the levels of thinking. Purpose is to retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory. In texts, words like “recall,” and “choose best answer” signal the need to memorize information.

Understand: Beyond memorizing, students must also understand and determine the meaning of what they read. Key words like “interpret,” “exemplify,” “classify,” “summarize,” “infer,” “explain,” “describe,” and “paraphrase” signal the need to understand the information.

Conceptualize involves both analysis and application:

  • Analyze: Through analysis, students identify components, relate individual parts to one another as well as to the overall structure or purpose. Keywords for this type of conceptualization include “differentiate,” “organize,” “attribute,” and “compare.”
  • Apply: Application involves using a procedure in a particular situation, such as to solve a problem or move from theory to practice. Terms denoting the need to apply one’s knowledge include “execute,” “implement,” and “solve.”

Evaluate: When we evaluate what we read, we make judgments based on criteria and standards, often involving conflicting data. Evaluation terms include “check,” “critique,” and “judge.”

Create: The highest level of thinking involves innovation or invention (e.g., your own theory or a new product). Keywords include “generate,” “plan,” and “produce.”


Adapted from: Bloom, B.S. (2002). Revised Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon

Four Levels of Questions

How can students deepen their thinking, moving from merely understanding to conceptualizing and evaluating? Questioning at various levels moves you to thinking at those levels. When we only ask basic questions, we think basic thoughts. Questioning at deeper levels leads to deeper thinking. The following question types are listed in ascending order of complexity.

Summary & definition

These questions focus on facts and details, setting up our knowledge/memorization of information and our understanding.

  • What is/are…?
  • Who…? When…? Where…? How much…? How many…?
  • What is an example of…?


Analysis questions focus on concepts.

  • How…?
  • What are the reasons for…?
  • What are the types/functions/processes of…?
  • What are the causes/results of…?
  • What is the relationship between X and Y?
  • How does …apply to…?
  • What is/are the problems or conflicts or issues…?
  • What are possible solutions/resolutions to these problems or conflicts or issues…?
  • What is the main argument or thesis of…?
  • How is this argument developed…?
  • What evidence or proof or support is offered…?
  • What are the other theories or arguments from other authors…?


  • If…occurs, then what will happen…?
  • If…had happened, then what would be different…?
  • What does theory X predict will happen…?


  • Is … correct or incorrect? … effective or ineffective?  …relevant or irrelevant? …clear or unclear? …logical or illogical? …proven or not proven?  …ethical or unethical?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of…?
  • What is the best solution to the problem/conflict/issue?
  • What should or should not happen?
  • Do I agree or disagree? What is my opinion? What is my support for my opinion?

Source: York University.

Critical Reading Checklist

Use the following questions to help you to read more critically.

  • What is the claim? What are the conclusions? What are the grounds or reasons for the claim? What underlying assumptions support the groups and claim?
  • What are the definitional and descriptive assumptions, the value conflicts, and the value assumptions?
  • What backup evidence supports those assumptions?
  • What refutations could be brought forward against the claim? Under what conditions can the claim not be made?
  • What qualifiers appear in the claim? What words or phrases are ambiguous?
  • Are the samples representative and the measurements valid? Are there flaws in the statistical reasoning?
  • Are there alternative causal explanations? Are there any errors in reasoning?
  • What significant information is omitted?
  • What alternative conclusions are consistent with the strong reasons? What are your value preferences in this controversy?