To read critically, you need to read actively, which means doing more than simply underlining or highlighting sections of text that strike you as you read. Underlining or highlighting text is only useful if you also “write back”—which means making comments and notes about what you underline or highlight as you go.
Writing back gives you lots of ammunition when you are writing in a timed-writing exam. Your expressed ideas are there for the taking—you don’t have to try to work out what it was that interested you when you first read the article because your notes tell you.
In addition, after your initial reading it is useful to do some invention work. Even though you don’t know what the prompt for the Writing Proficiency Exam will be, you know that the readers are going to expect you to use specific examples and details from the text and your own experience to support your ideas. Therefore, it is useful to think about how the ideas in the text and your own knowledge and experience intersect.
The one thing you may NOT do is add any completed paragraphs to your notes. In a timed writing examination, all the material you submit must be completed during the time set aside for the Exam. If you use material you or someone else has prepared beforehand, you are not completing the Examination as required. So, if we find that you have written paragraphs of original material on your copy of the article and you use material from those paragraphs in your Exam, you will receive NC for the attempt.
Below is a link to our ilocker site where you will find an excellent example of “writing back.” This student used writing back, clustering, and comparison of ideas as part of her preparation for the Writing Proficiency Exam. This kind of mark-up is certainly acceptable—it is actually what we would like to see everyone doing with their copies of the article!
Because of copyright issues, only portions of the article are available, but you should look through the whole PDF document to see what this student did.
Click on the little yellow notes to see commentary about the student’s work.
The link to ilocker is the following:
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