Some Advice How to Learn Critical Thinking

Critical thinking might sound Freudian or akin to fancy free-thinking Liberal studies, but it is actually a very valuable skill. What does critical thinking mean? Critical thinking is very simply the process of absorbing relevant information and using that information to formulate a calculated decision or opinion as opposed to merely taking what others say as face value. Not everyone is a natural born critical thinker. However, everyone has the ability to train themselves to think more critically.

What is Critical Thinking and What are Its Peculiarities?

To best define critical thinking, one would consider the objective analysis of facts and how they might rely on this analysis to form their own judgement or opinion. The more complex the subject, the more possible definitions will exist. These definitions often include the rational, unbiased or skeptical analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.

Critical thinkers are often self-directed, highly disciplined, and self-monitored. They are very aware that there is often more than one side to every story and are committed to understanding the why, how, who, what, etc.

Why is Critical Thinking Important For Everyone?

Critical thinking is important at school, in the workplace and in life.  For example, those leading a lecture might expect university students to call upon their own critical thinking skills to be able to take a more intellectual stance in the process of teaching on the information that is being presented so that they are able to determine which information is relevant and capable of arriving to their own conclusions or even forming their own arguments for future exploration or research.

Having developed strong critical thinking skills, students should be able to:

  • Take in a large amount of information
  • Quickly summarize important details
  • Quickly pick up on theories and arguments
  • Clearly communicate and justify their own point of view

Stages of Critical Thinking And How To Learn It

Over the span of two decades, the Center for Critical Thinking studied what they believed to be the various stages of critical thinking. They are:

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker

Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker

Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker

Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker

Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker

Stage Six: The Accomplished Thinker

The stages ranges from being an unreflective thinker who lacks the capability of assessing their own thoughts to being a highly articulate thinker capable of monitoring, revising and exploring strategies that are both critical and intuitive.

There are a number of things that one can do to improve their critical thinking skills and help them to progress through the stages. They include:

  • Ensuring a thorough understanding of the requirements of the assignment or class, and asking as many questions as possible
  • Being an active learner. Be prepared to explore ideas through reading, writing, conversing and listening
  • Learn to ask questions. Engage in conversations by asking relevant questions.
  • Explore connections, why are things connected, what do they mean to each other?Do not simply memorize and quote what you have to learn, but retell it using your own words synonyms
  • Relate the subjects or topics you learn to issues, problems or situations in your own life. Make it real.
  • Always ask yourself – can I explain this to someone else?

Some Critical Thinking Examples

The most effective way to apply critical thinking skills is to know what types of questions to ask and how to use these questions to gather information and open dialogue.

Here are a few examples of how critical thinking might be applied in the form of questioning.

  1. Use open ended questions to prove detailed answers.
    1. What are your thoughts on the current state of America’s economy and how would you go about addressing it?
    2. What is the most memorable moment in your childhood and what makes it so memorable?
  2. Use outcome based questions to uncover personal traits.
    1. How would you explain recycling to a 3 year old?
    2. If you could only eat two foods for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
  3. Use hypothetical questions to create scenarios.
    1. If you learned that your sibling was not really your sibling, but actually your aunt or uncle, how would you handle this information?
    2. If an employee under your supervision stole a large sum of money from a client to pay for an important medical procedure, how would you handle this situation?

Critical thinking can also be applied to every day life. Here are a few exercises 

  1. The art of self reflection. Analyse your own shortcomings
    1. Explore issues that spark strong racial controversy or focus on inequality, do you start to see things from a different cultural perspective or are you uncovering your own biases?
    2. After completing a specific task, are you able to reflect upon the skills that you’ve acquired and capable of seeing how you might have done things differently to achieve a better outcome?
  2. Making an informed decision
    1. Reflecting on a confrontation with someone close to you, are you able to see things from their perspective? Once you do, you will be able to see the whole picture and not just make decisions based on emotions.

There is much to be gained from learning to think critically and applying the skills you’ve learned to real world settings. Not only will you become a more objective thinker, you will become a better decision maker, become a stronger team player and be more capable of thinking logically and reasonably. These are all valuable skills that will help you to excel at school, in the workplace and in life.

Every day is a new opportunity to practice your critical thinking.