Evaluate and Critique

Evaluations and Critiques help you learn

Under the website section: Ten Ways of Thinking, there is a page on Judgment. The main idea is that , in order to make an intelligent judgement, it is necessary to first learn or define the criteria. On this page, we consider tasks students are often required to do. “Read and critique this article or novel.” “Study and critique this work of art, the movie or play, the music.”  You might also be asked to evaluate your teacher or other facets of your education.

We are all accustomed to having our teachers evaluate our work. They give  tests, they evaluate our participation and they give us grades. When we write a paper, we are accustomed to having them critique our work.  We accept this as the normal situation. After all, the teachers are the experts.

Notice the word use. Tests are a form of evaluation. They lead to our grades. Evaluation leads to a generalized statement of how good or poor something is.  The teacher critiques our papers. He or she looks at every detail and points to how we could have done better. When we critique something, we are looking at the details and finding ways the author could have improved their work.

The two words are often used interchangeably. You end a critique with an over-all evaluation. If we are asked to evaluate something, we need to begin with a critique, looking at the details.

It doesn’t seem normal, somehow, for students to be asked to read a short story or novel and critique it. After all, we are not experts. What right do we have to criticize a famous author?

The answer is simple, we are learning to be experts. We are trying to understand just what makes one book mediocre and another one outstanding.

The basic criteria for critiquing a work of fiction

Marcie is reading this book for her literature class and was surprised to discover how interesting it is. When she finishes reading the book, she will write a critique of it. It will help her remember many of the details.

Young woman with long dark hair and red shirt is reading a novel.Different books and different professors are likely to give you a list that is a little different from this, but they should include many of the same general ideas.

1. Look at the characters. Are they believable? Even the aliens in science fiction need to have some level of believability. Is the main character likable? Do you feel like you really know and understand the characters. Do you know what motivates them, worries them, makes them happy? Are the main characters original and truly memorable rather than forgettable?

2. Is the dialogue interesting and believable? Does each character have a unique voice, a distinctive manner of speaking? Is the dialogue important? Does it reveal information about the characters?

3. Does the setting (place and time) add to the story and make you feel like you are there? Does it add to the mood or themes of the story?

4. What is the point of view? How does it add or detract from the story?

5. How would you sum up the plot? Does it move slowly, inevitable toward the end or is it filled with unexpected twists and turns? Does the plot deliver what it promised in the beginning?  Was the author able to make it believable? What emotions did you experience?

6. Did you detect any underlying themes or symbols? If so, describe them and explain how they added to the story.

7. Describe the writing. Could you describe it as poetic, powerful, suspenseful, gentle, or insightful? Or was it confusing, boring, repetitive, or wandering.

8. Would you be eager to read another book by this author or not? Would you recommend this book to your friend? Explain why.

A proper critique begins with the facts. Give the author’s name, the title, the date published and any other relevant information. You might conclude with an over all evaluation  – whether the book was beautifully written but the plot moved too slowly – or whatever you have decided. And you might add if you would or would not recommend it to a friend.

Critiquing a work of Art

Begin with the title of the artwork and the artist, if you are given this information. Continue with a brief overall description of what you see. Does it appear to be similar to work done by any well-known artist?

Then you might break it down and describe the subject, the shapes and lines, and colors, the perspective (if that applies,) the use of light, the visual effect, and what seems to you to be the mood of the piece. Do you see repeated shapes? Does there seem to be a central focus that all the line are pointing to? Does it tell a story?

Again, conclude with your evaluation of how this is well done and describing what you think might have made it better. If you really like the painting and would be delighted to hang it on your wall, that’s a nice way to end. If you hate it, and wouldn’t even hang it in your bathroom, that is best left unsaid. You can say that you understand that some people might really enjoy this style of art but that it doesn’t appeal to you.

If you are asked to critique a work of art or a piece of music, you should have learned some of the basics first.

The Basic Criteria for critiquing nonfiction including technical articles

Eula Mae, in the picture, is reading a technical article in a journal for her biology class. Her assignment is to read and critique the article so she is paying close attention to details. This isn’t nearly as hard as she had expected.

As when critiquing the novel, she will begin by providing the title, author, and date in her introduction.

1. In addition to that information, you should describe the purpose of the book or article and provide a brief overview. African American woman is reading a journal

2.  You may critique everything starting with the title. Is it clear and does it describe the subject well? Is this topic important?

3. As you read, look for mistakes. Did they use a quote to prove a point when it actually supported the opposite position?  Sometimes you can find errors as you read. To find more errors you might need to do further research. Was it actually Albert Einstein who said that or was it Allen Eisenberg (a name I just made up). Many writers sometimes made little mistakes like this.

4. Is the information and discussion really relevant or has the author gotten off the topic? Was there any important information that was left out that you would have liked to know?

5. Study the references. Are they up to date or doesn’t it matter. For some topics, like how Sputnik changed American education, it would be logical to refer mainly to information published during that time period. But for most topics, you’d expect recently published sources.

6. When the book or article is based on experimental evidence, are the procedures and results described adequately?

7. Study the logic. (Critical Thinking). Has the author made an unwarranted assumptions?  Are any of his statements ambiguous or confusing? Does he remain objective? Does the evidence really lead logically to the conclusion?

8. Study any statistical data carefully. Are the graphs appropriate and fair.

In your conclusions, you can Evaluate the book or article. Is is a valuable addition to the literature in the field? A well written summary of the research, an interesting book but not particularly useful, etc. and give the main reasons for your evaluation.

How can you use critique or evaluation as a verbal learning strategy?

When you read a short story, a novel or an article for a class, it would be wise to read it critically (critiquing it.) Take notes on details that are really good for poorly done. When you finish reading,  write a brief critique of what you read.

How will this help you learn?  When you read, thinking about writing a critique, you focus on the details that are good or poor. Actually writing a brief critique makes you go back over what you read and organize it in a different way, in a way that really evaluates the writing. That means you focus better while reading, and again after reading.

If you have a test on that novel, you might be asked questions about the characters, the setting, the plot, the themes, etc. Focusing on these  while reading, after reading, and looking at the critique you wrote as part of your study will definitely help you remember the material better for the test.

And, if you are asked to critique this or some other material you are reading, you’ll be well prepared. You will understand what it means to critique something. You will comfortable and confident facing this assignment. You will be doing something you have done many times before.

Note that I only rarely would bother to critique material in a textbook. it is too generalized. Nobody expects us to critique the writing style in a textbook.

To read the page on    Judgment

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