Helping students to learn how to critically evaluate a source: how effective are the tools we use?


  • Edward Powell University of Reading
  • Sonia Hood University of Reading



critical thinking, evaluating a source, learning resources, generic support


What does evaluating a source involve? What aspects of the source are being evaluated? On what basis do we determine a source’s strengths and weaknesses? And how do we explain this to students who are learning the basics of critical analysis?

The Study Advice team at the University of Reading recently developed a new online guide introducing students to critical analysis. The guide includes a selection of exercises and visual and mnemonic tools that cover the basics of critical analysis, including Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001), the Seven Pillars of Information Literacy (SCONUL, 2011), C.R.A.A.P. (Blakeslee, 2004), B.E.A.M. (Bizup, 2008), and the University of Plymouth’s (2006) Model to Generate Critical Thinking, along with a new resource called S.P.E.A.R. that focuses on how to analyse and evaluate an individual source. We developed the latter after noticing in one-to-one appointments that students appeared to find this aspect of critical analysis particularly difficult to understand. Moreover, we felt that existing tools like C.R.A.A.P. and the Seven Pillars did not provide enough clarification of how to identify a source’s strengths and weaknesses.

In this workshop, participants will consider how well these tools work in helping students understand how to evaluate a source’s analysis and, by extension, its claims. This process can differ significantly across the disciplines. As such, we will also explore how to better capture the full breadth of critical analysis at degree level, without overwhelming students who are new to the concept with its full complexities.

Author Biographies

Edward Powell, University of Reading

Edward Powell is a Study Adviser at the University of Reading. He received his PhD from the University of Leeds and moved into Learning Development in 2018 with the University of Winchester. He is particularly interested in how to teach critical analysis across the disciplines, effective practice in learning development, and the role of learning developers in decolonising the curriculum.

Sonia Hood, University of Reading

Sonia Hood is the Study Advice Manager at the University of Reading. She has worked as a Learning Developer since 2006, after a successful career in Marketing. She completed an Ed.D in 2019, researching self-efficacy beliefs and academic writing. She has an interest in university transitions and levelling the playing field


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How to Cite

Powell, E. and Hood, S. (2023) “Helping students to learn how to critically evaluate a source: how effective are the tools we use?”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.990.

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