Good reading skills require much more than just basic comprehension. Analytical reading is an approach that probes more deeply to understand the message and goal of the piece you read. Standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT, as well as classroom assignments like book reports and papers, may test your ability to read analytically.
Breaking it Down
Analytical readers break a book or text down into each of its parts, strive to understand how the work relates to other works and society as a whole, and examine the role of each character. For example, you might begin by identifying the conflict and resolution of a story, and then assess what role each character plays. From there, you might be able to find similarities to and parallels with other works of literature, political beliefs and general themes.
Preparing to Read
One way to read analytically is to skim the text first and then return to a deeper reading. Whether you're reading for the first or second time, though, you'll need to get into a quiet location and gather supplies, such as a pen and notebook. If the work is particularly dense or challenging, read the commentary first or consult the study guides provided by your teacher. This can often help you place a work in clearer context, making analytical reading an easier and smoother undertaking.
There's no single way to read analytically, so find a method that works for you. You might highlight relevant passages, take notes or jot down thoughts on a particular character or theme as you read. If you're required to answer questions about what you read, consult the questions as you are reading, and then form your responses as soon as you're done.
Sometimes it's insufficient to only read a work once. A book such as "Ulysses," for example, is so challenging that it's unlikely you'll understand much of anything on the first pass. When you re-read a book, do so with a particular goal in mind, such as understanding the goals of a particular character or gaining more insight into the work's historical context.