Defining Critical Thinking

Various Ways to Think

Thinking comes naturally. You don’t have to make it happen—it just does. But you can make it happen in different ways. For example, you can think positively or negatively. You can think with “heart” and you can think with rational judgment. You can also think strategically and analytically, and mathematically and scientifically. These are a few of multiple ways in which the mind can process thought.

What are some forms of thinking you use? When do you use them, and why?

As a college student, you are tasked with engaging and expanding your thinking skills. One of the most important of these skills is critical thinking. Critical thinking is important because it relates to nearly all tasks, situations, topics, careers, environments, challenges, and opportunities. It’s not restricted to a particular subject area.

Handwritten poster. Guidelines for Critical Thinking when…talking/ reading/ blogging/ writing/ living. 4: justify your answers with text evidence (…because…) and examples from your life/world; agree and disagree with others and authors; ask questions of others and authors; complete sentences, correct punctuation/ capitols. 3: agree and disagree with others and authors; justify your opinions, tell why you agree and disagree; speak and write in complete sentences. 2: answers questions but not justify them; agree and disagree but you can’t tell why; incomplete sentences, incorrect punctuation. 1: does not contribute to the conversation; does not share your thinking; does not agree or disagree with others. Justify: to defend your thinking by showing and telling with examples and evidence.

Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is clear, reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. It means asking probing questions like, “How do we know?” or “Is this true in every case or just in this instance?” It involves being skeptical and challenging assumptions, rather than simply memorizing facts or blindly accepting what you hear or read.

Imagine, for example, that you’re reading a history textbook. You wonder who wrote it and why, because you detect certain assumptions in the writing. You find that the author has a limited scope of research focused only on a particular group within a population. In this case, your critical thinking reveals that there are “other sides to the story.”

Who are critical thinkers, and what characteristics do they have in common? Critical thinkers are usually curious and reflective people. They like to explore and probe new areas and seek knowledge, clarification, and new solutions. They ask pertinent questions, evaluate statements and arguments, and they distinguish between facts and opinion. They are also willing to examine their own beliefs, possessing a manner of humility that allows them to admit lack of knowledge or understanding when needed. They are open to changing their mind. Perhaps most of all, they actively enjoy learning, and seeking new knowledge is a lifelong pursuit.

This may well be you!

No matter where you are on the road to being a critical thinker, you can always more fully develop your skills. Doing so will help you develop more balanced arguments, express yourself clearly, read critically, and absorb important information efficiently. Critical thinking skills will help you in any profession or any circumstance of life, from science to art to business to teaching.

Critical Thinking IS Critical Thinking is NOT
Skepticism Memorizing
Examining assumptions Group thinking
Challenging reasoning Blind acceptance of authority
Uncovering biases

Critical Thinking in Action

The following video, from Lawrence Bland, presents the major concepts and benefits of critical thinking.

Click here to download a transcript for this video