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What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a kind of thinking in which you question , analyse , interpret ,  evaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say, or write. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikos meaning “able to judge or discern”. Good critical thinking is about making reliable judgements based on reliable information.

Applying critical thinking does not mean being negative or focusing on faults. It means being able to clarify your thinking so that you can break down a problem or a piece of information, interpret it and use that interpretation to arrive at an informed decision or judgement (for example designing a bridge, responding to an opinion piece or understanding a political motivation).

People who apply critical thinking consistently are said to have a critical thinking mindset, but no one is born this way. These are attributes which are learnt and improved through practice and application.

In the academic context, critical thinking is most commonly associated with arguments. You might be asked to think critically about other people's arguments or create your own. To become a better critical thinker, you therefore need to learn how to:

Critical Thinking diagram which lists the skills: Clarify, Question, Identify, Analyse, Evaluate, and Create

  • clarify your thinking purpose and context
  • question your sources of information
  • identify arguments
  • analyse sources and arguments
  • evaluate the arguments of others and
  • create or synthesise your own arguments.

As the image illustrates, critical thinking skills and attributes are interconnected and need to work together for your critical thinking to be effective.

Six key steps to developing your critical thinking skills and mindset View

Examples of critical thinking skills, mindsets and practices.

Below are four examples of critical thinking skills, mindsets and practices. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all critical thinking skills because the skills you use will depend on your specific context.

Questioning skills

How do i apply questioning skills.

  • I question the relevance and reliability of what I hear, read or see.
  • I question the authority and purpose of what I hear, read or see.

How do I apply a questioning mindset?

  • I am inquisitive and curious.
  • I always seek the truth, rather than accepting things without questioning.

What does good questioning look like in practice?

  • A student reads an academic paper and decides it is suitable to include in their essay as it was published recently by an expert in that specific field and the author’s findings were generated by the most reliable method.
  • A person reads a newspaper article editorial and realises the author is not an expert in the field and the arguments they present are intended to persuade the reader to vote for (or against) a certain political party.
  • A dietitian advises their patient against the advice the patient has read on the internet stating the benefits of hot chocolate as the dietitian recognises that the research was conducted by a confectionery manufacturer.

Analytical skills

How do i apply analytical skills.

  • I carefully examine ideas and information.
  • I systematically consider all aspects of a problem and look at each element in its wider context.

How do I apply an analytical mindset?

  • I make connections between ideas.

What does analysis look like in practice?

  • A student breaks down a film into its scenes and compares the choices the director has made with a variety of established film making theories and social science literature to discuss how the film makes a social commentary on a contemporary issue.
  • A person watches a news editorial and compares each claim the journalist makes with evidence generated by not-for-profit organisations, which clearly state their agenda to provide accurate data on climate change.
  • An epidemiologist collects all the survey data on behaviours during a pandemic and compares each behaviour pattern with the spread of the disease in different areas.

Evaluation skills

How do i apply evaluation skills.

  • I recognise (and avoid) flaws of reasoning.
  • I consider what is implied in what I see, hear and read.

How do I apply an evaluation mindset?

  • I compare different viewpoints and arguments, and point out their strengths and weaknesses.

What does evaluation look like in practice?

  • A student writing a persuasive essay checks they have presented the opposing side of their argument and finds well reasoned evidence to change their point of view and rewrite their essay.
  • When listening to a radio commentator’s response to gender diversity in the workplace a person realises the commentator criticises the advocate of the policy and never addresses their argument.
  • A psychology researcher collects data from hundreds of participants to prove their hypothesis about the correlation between gun violence and video games, but upon processing their data finds their hypothesis was rejected. The researcher then discloses that their hypothesis was not supported by the data in a respected academic journal.

Synthesis skills

How do i apply synthesis skills.

  • I use logic and reason to formulate my conclusions and arguments.
  • I use strong evidence, based on analysis and evaluation, to support my conclusions.

How do I apply a synthesis mindset?

  • I consider the bigger picture or context, and use strong evidence and reason to formulate my conclusions, decisions, judgements and arguments.

What does synthesis look like in practice?

  • A student conducts a literature review comparing the arguments for and against assisted death in terminally ill patients. They develop the argument that policy at a federal level is required, and logically connect their argument to several recent academic papers and reliable government reports.
  • A parent chooses to vaccinate their child against COVID-19 after reading about the benefits and risks in a piece written by a well respected immunologist in The Conversation, and after discussing the decision with their general practitioner.
  • A mechanical engineer challenges their supervisor’s approach to the design of a medical device by providing a summary of the experimental data they have collected.

Taking it further

Clarify your purpose and context.

Clarifying your purpose and context will help you focus your thinking and avoid information overload and distractions.

Question your sources

Learn how to select sources of information that are the most credible, accurate and relevant for your thinking tasks.

Identify arguments

The ability to identify arguments will help you recognise the main points made in your sources.

Analyse sources and arguments

To demonstrate your critical thinking, you need to be able to carefully examine sources, arguments, theories and processes, and explain how they work.

Evaluate the arguments of others

As a critical thinker, you need to be able to evaluate arguments, as well as the claims, evidence and reasoning that comprise them.

Create your own argument

Learn how to bring together evidence, reasoning and claims, and create your own argument.

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We want to hear from you! Let us know what you found most useful or share your suggestions for improving this resource.

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Critical thinking skills are sometimes described as ‘higher order’ skills – that is, skills requiring ways of thinking that are deeper and more complex than the kind of ‘everyday’ thinking that we use to, say, cook a meal or learn our times tables.

A framework that describes different levels of thinking can be helpful to start to understand the concept of critical thinking; one of the best-known of these is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) – an updated version of which is shown below. 

critical thinking in academic contexts

Image source: http://ezsnips.squarespace.com/blooms-taxonomy/

This framework suggests that remembering, understanding, and even applying facts, figures, concepts, or other learning are ‘lower order’ skills. Of course it’s important to be able to do these things, but they are just a beginning. To do really well academically, you will also need to be able to analyse and evaluate the information that you encounter in the course of your studies, and then make inferences or draw conclusions based upon your analysis and evaluation. These three key higher order skills are core to critical thinking. Ultimately, the aim is to create original academic work of your own (while acknowledging the ideas and work of others, of course).

Analysis: involves close reading or scrutiny of a piece of work to detect and identify its main points, arguments, and conclusions, and the evidence offered in support of them. Analysis often involves comparing and contrasting the work of different authors, identifying key themes or areas of contention, and/or making connections between different ideas or approaches towards the topic under consideration. Analysis may also involve the detailed examination of other data, such as the outcome of an experiment or a computer simulation.

Evaluation: involves assessing and probing the various points, arguments and evidence that you have found, in order to make a judgement about their credibility, relevance, and strength. It may involve considering what an author or authors have omitted, as well as what they have included, and questioning the conclusions that they have reached. Evaluation often requires you to consider how well the evidence or argument 'fits' with a particular theory.

Inference: involves building on your analysis and evaluation of the available information, by using them to reach a conclusion of your own. This may involve agreeing or disagreeing with the theories, arguments and conclusions of others, discussing the implications of the information that you have considered, and possibly making suggestions or recommendations for the future.

Developing these skills will make it possible for you to master the key academic skill of reflective judgement or the ability to make a reasoned judgement, based on the available information, while also being cognisant of the nature and limits of knowledge and knowing. As your critical thinking skills develop, you should feel more confident about creating original work of your own, knowing that your ideas rest on solid critical foundations.

The following infographic, created by NUI Galway researchers, illustrates these ideas and introduces the concept of critical thinking dispositions (see the How to develop your critical thinking skills section of the Academic Skills Hub for more about these dispositions): 

critical thinking in academic contexts

It’s really important to understand that being critical does not imply being negative. For some students, the word ‘critical’ has negative connotations, and they take it to mean that they should only find fault with an idea or a piece of work. This is incorrect. Being critical means considering things in a balanced and objective way, and using reason and logic – rather than instinct, emotion, or belief – to reach a conclusion.  

Arguments, non-arguments, and evidence

Arguments, non-arguments, and evidence PDF (181 KB)

Top tips for reflective practice and writing

Top tips for reflective practice and writing PDF (156 KB)

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Home / Blog / The importance of critical thinking

The importance of critical thinking

19th Feb 2016


Critical thinking is a core academic skill that teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students to question or reflect on their own knowledge and information presented to them. This skill is essential for students working on assignments and performing research. It’s also an invaluable skill in many workplace scenarios. In this week’s blog we discuss what critical thinking is, how it applies to the workplace and how to develop this crucial skill.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is not just being critical in the typical, negative sense of the word; there are many definitions but according to Beyer (1995), critical thinking means ‘making clear, reasoned judgments’.

A successful critical thinker questions perceived knowledge, rejects anecdotal or non-scientific evidence and examines the source of all information. He or she is open-minded and well-informed, able to judge the quality of an argument and draw cautious yet evidence-based conclusions.

It’s important for academic students because it enables them to produce essays and papers that are free from personal or societal bias.

How is it developed while studying?

With the support of their tutor and fellow students, learners must become skilled at assessing each source of information to determine its merit before using it as a reference.

Before utilising a statistic, quotation or piece of research to reinforce their argument in an assignment or discussion, students should check the source carefully to ensure that it was produced by a reliable source. That source needs to be based on solid evidence and should not suffer from research bias.

Assignments based on flimsy or badly-researched source materials will receive lower grades as the conclusions drawn are only as reliable as the data they are based on.

Critical thinking is developed naturally over the course of study as students learn to scrutinise evidence and dissect opposing arguments.

How does it apply to the workplace?

Many people considering undergraduate or postgraduate study focus their attention only on the subject-specific skills that they will develop, e.g. they assume that a law degree will only help them to progress in a legal-related role.

However this is not the case; while it’s true that a law course covers many law-related topics, it will also develop your general communication, presentation, writing, analytical and critical thinking skills. These skills can then be used in the workplace in many ways, depending on the industry. For example, a manager could use their critical thinking skills to evaluate sales and financial data, or to review a project proposal.

By remaining detached from sudden fluctuations in data and emotional sales pitches, employees with critical thinking skills are able to see the bigger picture and avoid making hasty (and costly!) decisions. Employees with critical thinking skills can also use these to improve their company through market research and by recognising opportunities. By researching the competition and their practices, assessing what is successful, these employees can help their company spot opportunities for growth, expansion or product development. Getting ahead of market trends before anyone else gives the company a valuable edge in the marketplace.

In summary, critical thinking is a vital skill in both academia and the world of work. It is developed naturally during undergraduate and postgraduate study, and has applications in almost every industry and role.

Do you want to develop your critical thinking skills?  Download our prospectus today  and find a course to help you.

Beyer, B.K., 1995. Critical Thinking. Fastback 385 . Phi Delta Kappa, 408 N. Union, PO Box 789, Bloomington, IN 47402-0789.

critical thinking in academic contexts

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Definitions of Critical Thinking in Context

Profile image of Adam Gyenes

With the impact of increasing global competition, calls for greater emphasis on critical thinking in secondary and higher education are frequently heard in Japan, yet there is a lack of agreement on what is meant by the term “critical thinking.” This paper provides a review of selected literature, charting the chronological development of definitions of critical thinking in education during the twentieth century, and reflections on the application of critical thinking to different contexts. Whereas critical thinking is often conflated with logic in Japanese discourse, this review shows that, outside of Japan, definitions of critical thinking have progressively moved away from logic to focus on a core of teachable skills. Although general consensus among academics has resulted in a widely accepted definition of critical thinking since the 1990s, this paper suggests that critical thinking needs to be adapted to the specific needs of students in different educational contexts through the personal and working definitions of individual educators. These educational contexts are defined in disciplinary, social, and cultural terms. It is hoped that this synthesis of the literature might help educators in Japan and elsewhere to identify both a universal core of critical thinking skills and insights on adapting these skills, so that they can develop a personal definition that suits their own teaching situation.

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Farah Qamar

Since Socrates " time, reasoning is considered valuable for the justification of speaker " s belief along with Thomas Aquinas " testing of his thinking to answer his own thinking. Critical thinking has been part of discussion among the educators for its significance and application for last many decades. Many educators have conducted researches on the assessment of critical thinking within a domain or across the domain in order to test students " critical thinking skills and its effect on their learning. Similarly, critical thinking is highly valuable for the study of literature as it explicitly asked for learners " beliefs, perceptions, and judgments in order to remove the ambiguity of thought. Perfection of thought can be achieved with the use of critical thinking skills while training of mind needs interaction between literary text and the reader as literature has the capacity to achieve mental traits specified to critical thinking. Accordingly, this report presents a relationship between critical thinking skills and English literature study along with reader response theory techniques considering that without the use of critical thinking skills and reader response theory, study of literature is haphazard hence for the application of reader response theory, literary text is inevitable. In essence, I aim to highlight the effectiveness of critical thinking skills for the study of literature while emphasizing the significance of reader response theory which is also inevitable for the study of literature and for the use of critical thinking skills.

critical thinking in academic contexts

Martin Davies

There has been no shortage of definitions of the concept of “critical thinking” over the years and the concept has been subject to much detailed scholarly work. In social and educational terms critical thinking is an important topic. Of late, critical thinking has also been widely discussed in the popular media, and the concept has been regarded as one of the most important graduate outcomes expected of a university education. However, despite this, scholars have yet to arrive at a holistic conception of critical thinking—a model of critical thinking as it were—that might usefully underpin the range of considerations about critical thinking that occur in the higher education literature. This paper: (1) reviews the various definitions and approaches to critical thinking, and (2) incorporates them into a single, coherent model. A number of disagreements in critical thinking scholarship are outlined as ‘axis disputes’ arising from the proposed model.

This study investigates the importance of critical thinking skills for domain specificity. A theatrical research is carried out to highlight the use of critical thinking skills for domain specificity. Literature highlights that students use their critical thinking skills in a specific domain and perform better in classroom and at work place. Literature further highlights that teachers must facilitate students in the knowledge of critical thinking skills by using their own critical faculties. Likewise, advocates of critical thinking stress that institutes must produce critical thinkers. Literature focuses on domain specificity for the use of critical thinking skills. Studies show that in a specific domain learners critically comprehend, analyze, infer and evaluate text and finally become critical thinkers in a specific domain. Introduction Critical thinking is an important factor in the advancement of students' learning. In this rapidly changing world, students who are good at using critical thinking skills they perform better everywhere. The aim of this study is to explore the effectiveness of critical thinking skills for domain specificity. The objective of the study is to throw light on the significance of domain specificity with the use of critical thinking skills. The significance of the study shows that teachers and learners must consider critical thinking skills for domain specificity.

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محمد محمد السر محمد

Ronald Barnett

What is critical thinking, especially in the context of higher education? How have research and scholarship on the matter developed over recent past decades? What is the current state of the art here? How might the potential of critical thinking be enhanced? What kinds of teaching are necessary in order to realize that potential? And just why is this topic important now? These are the key questions motivating this volume. We hesitate to use terms such as " comprehensive " or " complete " or " definitive, " but we believe that, taken in the round, the chapters in this volume together offer a fair insight into the contemporary understandings of higher education worldwide. We also believe that this volume is much needed, and we shall try to justify that claim in this introduction. The context here is complex, with strands running in different directions and overlaying each other.

emolot allan david

At university, critical thinking includes the component skills of analyzing arguments, making inferences using inductive or deductive reasoning, judging or evaluating, and making decisions or solving problems. Critical thinking involves both cognitive skills and dispositions. These dispositions, which can be seen as attitudes or habits of mind, include open- and fairmindedness, inquisitiveness, flexibility, a propensity to seek reason, a desire to be well-informed, and a respect for and willingness to entertain diverse viewpoints. There are both general and domain specific aspects of critical thinking. Empirical research suggests that people begin developing critical thinking competencies at a very young age. Although adults often exhibit deficient reasoning, in theory all people can be taught to think critically. At university, Lecturers should provide explicit instruction in critical thinking, to teach how to transfer to new contexts, and to use cooperative or collaborative learning methods and constructivist approaches that place students at the center of the learning process. In constructing assessments of critical thinking, lecturers should use open-ended tasks, real-world or “authentic” problem contexts, and illstructured problems that require students to go beyond recalling or restating previously learned information. Such tasks should have more than one defensible solution and embed adequate collateral materials to support multiple perspectives. Finally, such assessment tasks should make student reasoning visible by requiring students to provide evidence or logical arguments in support of judgments, choices, claims, or assertions.

Thomas Archibald

Evaluative thinking (ET) is an increasingly important topic in the field of evaluation, particularly among people involved in evaluation capacity building (ECB). Yet it is a construct in need of clarification, especially if it is to be meaningfully discussed, promoted, and researched. To that end, we propose that ET is essentially critical thinking applied to contexts of evaluation. We argue that ECB, and the field of evaluation more generally, would benefit from an explicit and transparent appropriation of well-established concepts and teaching strategies derived from the long history of work on critical thinking. In this paper, based on previous work in the fields of education, cognitive science and critical thinking, as well as on our experience as ECB practitioners, we propose several guiding principles and specific strategies for teaching ET that draw directly from research on the teaching of critical thinking.

Thinking Skills and Creativity

Paul Stapleton

The term “critical thinking” (CT) is frequently found in educational policy documents in sections outlining curriculum goals. Despite this frequency, however, precise understandings among teachers of what CT really means are lacking. In this study, 72 high school teachers in Hong Kong were surveyed and interviewed on their beliefs about the meaning of CT. Results indicated that while the teachers had some conception of the term, it tended to be narrow. Further, they expressed strong support for the inclusion of CT in the curriculum, while conveying a desire for training in how to teach it. The findings suggest more precise definitions of CT are needed in educational documents.▶ High school teachers were surveyed on their beliefs about “critical thinking”. ▶ The teachers had a wide range of conceptions about its meaning. ▶ Some teachers thought critical thinking included only cognitive skill elements. ▶ Some teachers thought critical thinking included only cognitive skill elements, others thought it was more dispositional in nature. ▶ The meaning of “critical thinking” needs more clarity in educational documents.

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Related links, íkala, revista de lenguaje y cultura, print version  issn 0123-3432, íkala vol.17 no.2 medellín may/aug. 2012.



Alireza Karbalaei *

* holds a Ph.D in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). He is currently working as a Faculty member of Department of English, Qeshm International Branch, Islamic Azad University, Iran. Mailing address: Qeshm International Branch, Farmandari Sq, Qeshm Island, Iran. E-mail: [email protected]


Educators agree that the development of higher order or cognitive intellectual abilities is of utmost importance and that critical thinking ''is central to both personal success and national needs'' (Paul, 2004, p. 2). They are beginning to explore those pedagogical practices that could effectively develop student critical thinking knowledge, skills, and dispositions across the academic disciplines. Further, instructional strategies that advance critical thinking pedagogy on a consistent basis could enable instructors with the ability to encourage in their students the transfer of those critical thinking skills learned in the academic environment to their professional and personal lives.

In order to advance critical thinking pedagogy and encourage students' critical thinking abilities, however, educators must possess a clear definition of what critical thinking is. As the concept of critical thinking is highly complex, a variety of definitions exist, so it is difficult to pinpoint the exact meaning of the skills involved in this intricate process. Facione (1990), using the two-sentence definition of critical thinking generated from the Delphi Report, identified critical thinking as ''the process of purposeful, selfregulatory judgment. This process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria'' (p. 5). Facione argues that a true definition of critical thinking involves both skills and habits of mind or dispositions. Similar to Facione and his concern with the necessity for an inclination toward critical thinking, Paul (1992) asserts that critical thinking is an intellectually disciplined process ''of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing or evaluating information'' (p. 3). Halpern (1998) believes that critical thinking is ''purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed'' (p. 70), while maintaining that ''it is the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions'' (p. 70).

In general, critical thinking is ''that mode of thinking –about any subject, content, or problem– in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them'' (Paul & Elder, 2004, p. 1). Education experts have called for renewed interest in problem solving and critical thinking to teach learners how to logically analyze, compare, question, and evaluate within content areas. Thinking is not separate from content; it should be an integrated part of the learning process. Regardless of the educational level, critical thinking must be performed as an active part of course curricula. Carr (1988) states that in an environment that emphasizes thinking, objectives must include application and analysis, divergent thinking, and opportunities to organize ideas and support value judgments. This creates a productive learning environment in which students are actively involved in critical thinking, and fosters educational advancement within the learning process.

A primary goal for educators, then, is to provide students with opportunities to struggle with concepts, find meaning, distinguish bias, and use logic in arguments so they may gain a deeper understanding of the world in which they live. The question is what teaching methodologies can be used by educators to promote the development of students' critical thinking skills?

Educators are beginning to place more emphasis on increasing students' critical thinking abilities while attempting to include critical thinking curriculum into a variety of academic disciplines. Although colleges and universities offer critical thinking courses, critical thinking can be embedded in the instruction of a variety of academic disciplines, and faculty can engineer their course focus so that it is more thinking-skills-based (Halpern, 1998).

Unfortunately, there has been little research to determine whether teaching critical thinking improves student academic performance. Thus, there is a need for continued research regarding the use of considerable critical thinking interventions consisting of well-designed educational opportunities to enable practicing teachers to improve outcomes for their students.


A strong critical thinking pedagogy that encourages students' critical knowledge, skills, and dispositions may improve students' academic success while encouraging those abilities needed for transfer and for competency in the workplace. Elder (2007) contends, however, that traditional education is not nurturing the intellectual capabilities needed for personal and academic success. Often, students are merely asked to write down facts rather than to question or reflect on their reading, and, as a result, they are incapable of drawing inferences and of engaging in complex conversations about the literature (both fiction and nonfiction prose) they read. Elder (2007) suggests further that ''as the economic structure of the world becomes more complex'' (p. 1) and ''as we become increasingly more interdependent both at home and abroad, 'training' students for job performance in narrowly defined skill areas no longer serves students well'' (p. 1).

Wilson (1997) discusses the increasing complexities of the world and suggests these new global realities ''are rapidly working their way into the deepest structures of our lives: economic, social, and environmental realities –realities with profound implications for teaching and learning'' (p. 1). The question is whether educational institutions are preparing students to adapt to and accommodate for these complexities.

It is the responsibility of educational institutions to promote and develop students' critical thinking abilities. Sternberg (2003) argues that educational institutions far too often emphasize rote memorization; while ''rote memorization requires recital and repetition'', critical thinking ''requires skillful analysis, evaluation, and interpretation'' (p. 1). Although all individuals need a knowledge base (Sternberg, ibid) or store of information, this knowledge base must prove useful for living, and instead of emphasizing the memorization of trivial facts, Sternberg (2003) encouraged educators to teach usable information that students can transfer into their lives. Rather than being taught how to think critically, students are far too often being taught to do little more than recall and recognize; they ''are becoming highly susceptible to the commission of cognitive fallacies'' (Sternberg, 2003, p. 1) and, as a result, they may tend to ''act on their prejudices and their fears'' (Sternberg, ibid) rather than on reasoned judgment.

In recent years, a great deal of research in L1 and ESL field has been conducted on strategy training. Strategy training comes from the assumption that success in learning mainly depends on appropriate strategy use and that unsuccessful learners can improve their four skills by being trained to use effective strategies (Dansereau, 1985; Weinstein & Underwood, 1985).

However, a primary goal for educators is to instill in their students a questioning, reflective, critical mind. The educational system should have been a target for reform to teach students to think critically, and the educational arena should begin to take the issue of critical thinking seriously. In light of the increasing demands and accelerating changes occurring in the 21st century, educators are experiencing profound challenges, and the question continues as to which pedagogical practices would be most effective for the instruction and assessment of critical thinking. Paul (1995) believes that ''only through an explicit shift to a critical conception of education, with an explicit critique and rejection of the assumptions of didactic education, can we achieve significant reform'' (p. 278). As national assessment of student achievement far too often focuses on lower order thinking and learning, Paul (1995) argues that assessment must focus on higher order thinking, reasoning, and authentic performance.

Therefore, the development and implementation of pedagogy that promotes students' engagement in the learning process could encourage students' critical thinking abilities and the transfer of those abilities necessary for academic achievement, personal success, and success in the work force.


A fundamental understanding of the critical thinking movement begins with contributions from Socrates, who developed a method of asking meaningful questions, where ''confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric'' (Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997, p. 1). Socrates questioned the assumptions and beliefs of those in authority and established Socratic questioning, which is a methodology that advocates the importance of asking probing questions and seeking evidence to examine rhetoric. Socrates's search for the essence of reason and truth encouraged a thorough examination of statements, and an understanding of their evidence, assumptions, theories, reasoning, and implications. Socrates's practice and method of reflective, well-reasoned, systematic thinking influenced the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Sir Thomas Moore, Hobbes and Lock, Robert Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton (Paul et al., 1997).

Twentieth-century theorists whose writings have contributed significantly to critical thinking theory and education are William Graham Sumner, John Dewey, Edward Glaser, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky. Dewey's pragmatic approach to critical thinking advocates student-centered rather than subject-centered education. He believed that genuine education comes about through experience; however, ''the quality of any experience has two aspects. There is an immediate aspect of agreeableness or disagreeableness, and there is its influence upon later experiences'' (Brookfield, Tennant, & Pogson, 2005, p. 326). Education and life are interrelated, and educators must design and carefully monitor positive educational experiences.

In contrast to Piaget's view of learning as an individual endeavor, Vygotsky stressed the importance of past experiences, prior knowledge, society, and culture on promoting cognitive growth (Dahms, Geonnotti, Passalacqua, Schilk, Wetzel & Zulkowsky, 2007). Whereas Piaget was concerned with the characteristics exhibited by children of a particular age, Vygotsky focused on the process of child development. Vygotsky believed knowledge is developed through social interaction, that learning occurs through language and shared experiences, and adults ''foster children's learning and development in an intentional and somewhat systematic manner'' (Ormrod, 2004, p. 150).

Individuals react to, alter, and adapt to their environment. Vygotsky's socio-cultural perspective includes the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which assumes that learning is social and human potential is limitless, ''but the practical limits of human potential depend upon quality social interactions'' (Dahms et al., 2007, p. 3).


As stated earlier, critical thinking is a vital topic in education today. As a result, schools and school districts seek new and innovative ways of teaching critical thinking skills utilizing the many principles and definitions of critical thinking that exist. These current principles have been theoretically analyzed by education experts such as Paul, Elder, Brookfield, and DeBono. Critical thinking is distinguished as a careful evaluation and judgment, providing the ability to fully understand issues and make appropriate decisions.

Paul and Elder (2004) offer the following definition of critical thinking: It is the ''kind of thinking about any subject, content, or domain that improves itself through disciplined analysis and assessment. The analysis requires knowledge of the elements of thought; assessment requires knowledge of the standards of thought'' (p. 6). Finally, critical thinking, as stated by Scriven and Paul, is the intellectual process of ''conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication'' (as cited in The Center for Critical Thinking, n. d., para. 2) Ideally, critical thinking is the ability to engage in purposeful thought with the goal of eliminating personal and social biases.

Brookfield (1987) argues that critical thinking is a process. In fact, his definition includes emotional as well as rational components, and clearly acknowledges the importance of culture and context; he defined reflective skepticism as ''the act of constantly questioning the status quo'' (p. 7).

The basic principle of reflective skepticism involves the components of critical thinking in questioning the unknown by exploring different alternatives.

DeBono (1985) describes critical thinking as a planned thinking process in a detailed and cohesive way. He used Thinking Hats as a simple but effective way to become a better thinker –a powerful problem-solving approach that enhances mental flexibility by encouraging individuals to attack an issue from several conceptual angles. Teaching critical thinking through the Thinking Hats requires drawing for the certain patterns of intellectual behaviors that produce prevailing results. Critical thinking is ''purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed. It is the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions'' (Halpern, 1998, p. 450).


When using critical thinking within current methods of instruction , it is more important to teach students how to think rather than what to think. Current models of instruction are relevant in integrating critical thinking within core curriculum.

Paul and Elder (2004) developed a model based on the elements of thoughts to analyze critical thinking. This process employs strategic and critical thinking in action. The elements that are used to analyze critical thinking in classroom activities are purpose, question or issue, information, interpretation and inference, concepts, assumptions, implications and consequences, and point of view.

The second model is Brookfield's Reflective Thinking . According to him, critical thinking focuses on assumptions and reflective reasoning (Brookfield, 1987). In doing this, teachers create learning environments in which learners are less likely to act or make decisions out of habit. Instead, it forces learners to ask hard questions, weigh the evidence, interpret complex problems, and, as a result, make truly informed and wise decisions, thus fostering critical thought. According to Brookfield (1987), teachers play a role in helping students become critical thinkers by facilitating the search for new information and challenging personal assumptions whenever possible. Through Brookfield's principle of reflective thinking, students should confirm the accuracy of assumptions by exploring many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible.

The last model, DeBono's Thinking Hats, was designed by DeBono (1985). He supplied the following standpoint of critical thinking: It is the ultimate human resource, yet students can never be satisfied with the most important skill. No matter how good students become at thinking, the ultimate goal is to become better. Therefore, he offered six Thinking Hats as a model for integrating critical thinking. The development of critical thinking skills are imperative, and must become habits of the mind. DeBono (1985), separates thinking into six distinct modes, identified with six colored Thinking Hats, white, red, black, yellow, green, and blue. When engaging in white hat thinking, students should only focus on facts, figures, and objective information. An illustration would be students determining what facts are needed to solve a problem or answer a question. The red hat centers around emotions and feelings, and students should only focus on those representations during this mode of thinking. An example of red hat thinking would be students determining what the implications would be of determined facts and figures used to solve a problem or answer a question. The black hat symbolizes reasoning skills. When employing black hat thinking, students use logical, negative thoughts based on the consequences of red hat thinking. Yellow hat thinking is composed of positive, constructive thoughts whereby students seek to find resolutions, which contrasts black hat thinking. The green hat signifies creativity and new ideas. Students using green hat thinking apply the facts of white hat thinking to create new concepts. The blue hat serves as the mediator and controls the other hats and thinking steps. The Thinking Hats model allows students to approach issues from different perspectives utilizing both creative and critical thought.


A major paradigm shift has occurred in higher education from emphasis on curricular content to curricular outcomes, or in the case of nursing school, to student competencies. The focus on outcomes is, in part, caused by accrediting agencies, which now require nursing school programs to measure students' growth in critical thinking. This emphasis on teaching critical thinking necessarily leads to the need for reliable and valid ways of measuring critical thinking. However, the measurement of critical thinking is fraught with difficulty (Ennis, 1998). Commercial instruments are available to measure students' critical thinking abilities, but all of them have potential limitations. The following review of available instruments to measure critical thinking demonstrates some of the difficulties inherent in evaluating the effectiveness of these teaching methods.

The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA) (Watson & Glaser, 1980) is one of the most widely used standardized tests to measure the logical and creative components of nursing school students' critical thinking abilities. The WGCTA items include problems and arguments similar to those encountered in actual nursing school situations. The WGCTA is an 50-item, selfadministered test, yielding a score that indicates critical thinking ability (Watson & Glaser, 1964). Two forms of the test are available for pretest/ posttest administration.

Further, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) currently is one of the most frequently used standardized measurements of critical thinking in nursing schools, although it does not contain any discipline-specific content and, thus, would be appropriate for students in any discipline (P. Facione & N. Facione, 1992).

The CCTST contains 34 multiple-choice items designed to assess the core critical thinking skills of analysis, inference, and evaluation.

A companion to the CCTST is the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI), which consists of 75 Likert-type items, designed to reflect the critical thinking dispositions of truth-seeking, open-mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, critical thinking confidence, inquisitiveness, and maturity (P. Facione, N. Facione, & Sanchez, 1992). It addresses 3 of the 10 habits of mind nursing schools espouse as important to critical thinking: open-mindedness, confidence, and inquisitiveness.

In addition, the Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test (EWCTET) uses written essays to evaluate a given argument (Ennis & Weir, 1985). This tool tests the critical thinking skills of getting the point, seeing the reasons and assumptions, stating one's point, offering good reasons (reflection), seeing other possibilities (open-mindedness), and responding appropriately. Two habits of mind, reflection and open-mindedness, appear to be measured by this test.

The Cornell Critical Thinking Tests (CCTT) have two forms, X and Z, designed to measure a wide range of critical thinking abilities (i.e., induction, deduction, value judgment, observation, credibility, assumptions, meaning) (Ennis, Millman, & Tomko, 1985).

Based on the APA's definition of critical thinking, the Minnesota Test of Critical Thinking (MTCT) is ''designed to measure both critical thinking skills and a key disposition of critical reasoning: the willingness to critically evaluate arguments which are congruent with one's own goals and beliefs'' (Edman, Bart, Robey, & Silverman, 2000, p. 3).

Finally, developed by American College Testing, the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) is designed to help postsecondary institutions improve teaching and enhance student learning. This test offers individual modules in five areas: reading, writing, mathematics, science reasoning, and critical thinking (Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency, 2001). The critical thinking module measures students' ability to clarify, analyze, evaluate, and extend arguments. The format of this examination is multiplechoice questions developed from essays related to issues commonly encountered in postsecondary education.


Oliver and Utermohlen (1995) see students as too often being passive receptors of information. Through technology, the amount of information available today is massive. This information explosion is likely to continue in the future. Students need a guide to weed through the information and not just passively accept it. Students need to ''develop and effectively apply critical thinking skills to their academic studies, to the complex problems that they will face, and to the critical choices they will be forced to make as a result of the information explosion and other rapid technological changes'' (Oliver & Utermohlen, 1995, p. 1).

On the other hand, critical thinking involves questioning. Therefore, it is important to teach students how to ask good questions, to think critically, in order to continue the advancement of the very fields we are teaching. ''Every field stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously'' (Center for Critical Thinking, as cited in Walker, 1997, Why Teach Critical Thinking? para. 2).

Beyer (1995) sees the teaching of critical thinking as important to the very state of our nation. He argues that to live successfully in a democracy, people must be able to think critically in order to make sound decisions about personal and civic affairs. If students learn to think critically, then they can use good thinking as the guide by which they live their lives.

students the skills needed to become competent employees at the community college level. As society becomes more complex, and as a rapid change in technology occurs, ''training students for job performance in narrowly defined skill areas no longer serves students well'' (p. 1). Elder's contention was that students are not prepared for the challenges of the current job market. Therefore, educators should encourage in their students the intellectual tools that ''will render them mentally flexible and intellectually disciplined'' (p. 2). Successful employees must be able to utilize disciplined reasoning and the metacognitive process so they can direct and redirect their thinking. Rather than emphasizing the transfer of information, educators should encourage students to rethink their thinking and to reason, analyze, judge, and interpret that information.


To improve students' critical thinking knowledge, skills, and dispositions, educators can develop instructional pedagogy with purposeful learning activities that encourage critical thinking abilities. Students must be taught how to think critically, and frequent and explicit teacher modeling of critical thinking skills.

Furthermore, students need to be given opportunities for consistent, repeated practice of these skills over an extended period of time. As well, support from the administrative staff along with the implementation of teacher training in critical thinking instructional strategies.

What is of utmost importance is creating a classroom that encourages collaboration, open dialogue, and an acceptance of diverse values, beliefs, and perspectives. Students should be allowed to openly express their opinions without fear of judgment, censure, or reproach, and educators can encourage optimal critical thinking behaviors and attitudes through effective modeling of those behaviors.

It is hoped that this short review on the role of critical thinking skills will shed some light on blurred issues related to this topic in both EFL and ESL contexts. Therefore, the main reason behind writing this short introduction is to call Íkala 's readers and authors' attention on the possible topics to be investigated and the proposals to be sent to this journal.

1. Beyer, B. (1995). Critical thinking . Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.         [  Links  ]

2. Brookfield, S. (1987). Developing critical thinkers: Challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.         [  Links  ]

3. Brookfield, S., Tennant, M., & Pogson, P. (2005). Theory and methods of educating adults . New York, NY: Wiley.         [  Links  ]

4. Carr, K. (1988). How can we teach critical thinking? Childhood Education , 65(2), 69–73.         [  Links  ]

6. Collegiate assessment of academic proficiency . (2001). Retrieved from http://www.howardcollege.edu/pdf/abouthc/QEP/CT_Sample.pdf .         [  Links  ]

7. Dahms, M., Geonnotti, K., Passalacqua, D., Schilk, N., Wetzel, A., & Zulkowsky, M. (2007). The educational theory of Lev Vygotsky: an analysis . Retrieved from http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Vygotsky.html .         [  Links  ]

8. Dansereau, D. (1985). Learning strategy research. In J., Segal & S., Chipman (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills . London, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.         [  Links  ]

9. DeBono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats . Boston, MA: Little, Brown.         [  Links  ]

10. Edman, L., Bart, W., Robey, J., & Silverman, J. (2000). The Minnesota test of critical thinking: development, analysts, and critical issues . Paper presented at a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington.         [  Links  ]

12. Ennis, R. (1998). Is critical thinking culturally biased? Teaching Philosophy , 21(1), 15-33.         [  Links  ]

13. Ennis, R., Millman, J., & Tomko, T. (1985). Cornell critical thinking test level X and Level Z manual (3rd.). Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publications.         [  Links  ]

14. Ennis, R., & Weir, E. (1985). The Ennis-Weir critical thinking essay test . Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publications.         [  Links  ]

15. Facione, P. (1990). Critical thinking: a statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. Research findings and recommendations . Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association.         [  Links  ]

16. Facione, P., & Facione, N. (1992). The California critical thinking skills test: test manual . Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.         [  Links  ]

17. Facione, P., Facione, N., & Sanchez, C. (1992). The California critical thinking disposition inventory: test manual . Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.         [  Links  ]

18. Halpern, D. (1998). Teaching critical thinking for transfer across domains: dispositions, skills, structure training, and metacognitive monitoring. American Psychologist , 53(4), 449–455.         [  Links  ]

20. Ormrod, J. (2004). Learning theory and the educational process . Boston, MA: Pearson.         [  Links  ]

21. Paul, R. (1992). Critical thinking: what every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world . Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.         [  Links  ]

22. Paul, R. (1995). The critical connection: Higgher order thinking that unifies curriculum, instruction, and learning. In J., Willsen, & A., Binker (Eds.), Critical thinking: how to prepare students for a rapidly changing world (pp. 103–151). Santa Rosa, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.         [  Links  ]

24. Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2004). Critical thinking . . . and the art of close reading, Part III. Journal of Developmental Education, 28(1), 36–37. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. (AAT 14576885).         [  Links  ]

28. Watson, G., & Glaser, E. (1964). Watson-Glaser critical thinking appraisal manual . New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and World.         [  Links  ]

30. Weinstein, C., & Underwood, V. (1985). Learning strategies: the how of learning. In J., Segal, S., Chapman, & R., Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills (pp. 241-258). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.         [  Links  ]

31. Wilson, E. (1997). The automatic generation of CALL exercises from general corpora. In A., Wichmann, S., Fligelstone, T., McEnery, & G., Knowles (Eds.) (pp. 116-130). Teaching and Language Corpora . Harlow, England: Addison Wesley Longman.         [  Links  ]

critical thinking in academic contexts

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4 The importance of critical thinking and analysis in academic studies

The aim of critical thinking is to try to maintain an objective position. When you think critically, you weigh up all sides of an argument and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. So, critical thinking entails: actively seeking all sides of an argument, testing the soundness of the claims made, as well as testing the soundness of the evidence used to support the claims.

Box 1 What ‘being critical’ means in the context of critical thinking

Critical thinking is not :

  • restating a claim that has been made
  • describing an event
  • challenging peoples’ worth as you engage with their work
  • criticising someone or what they do (which is made from a personal, judgemental position).

Critical thinking and analysis are vital aspects of your academic life – when reading, when writing and working with other students.

While critical analysis requires you to examine ideas, evaluate them against what you already know and make decisions about their merit, critical reflection requires you to synthesise different perspectives (whether from other people or literature) to help explain, justify or challenge what you have encountered in your own or other people’s practice. It may be that theory or literature gives us an alternative perspective that we should consider; it may provide evidence to support our views or practices, or it may explicitly challenge them.

You will encounter a number of activities and assignments in your postgraduate studies that frequently demand interpretation and synthesis skills. We introduced such an activity in Session 1 (Activity 3). Part of this requires use of ‘higher-order thinking skills’, which are the skills used to analyse and manipulate information (rather than just memorise it). In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom identified a set of important study and thinking skills for university students, which he called the ‘thinking triangle’ (Bloom, 1956) (Figure 1). Bloom’s taxonomy can provide a useful way of conceptualising higher-order thinking and learning. The six intellectual domains, their descriptions and associated keywords are outlined in Table 1.

A pyramid with the words showing levels of intellectual skill

This figure shows a pyramid with the following words, from top to bottom: evaluation (assessing theories; comparison of ideas; evaluating outcomes; solving; judging; recommending; rating), synthesis (using old concepts to create new ideas; design and invention; composing; imagining; inferring; modifying; predicting; combining), analysis (identifying and analysing patterns; organisation of ideas; recognising trends), application (using and applying knowledge; using problem solving methods; manipulating; designing; experimenting), comprehension (understanding; translating; summarising; demonstrating; discussing), knowledge (recall of information; discovery; observation; listing; locating; naming).


critical thinking in academic contexts

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Homework Help

  • May 14, 2019
  • By Homework Help Global
  • In Critical Thinking , The Homework Help Show
  • Tagged: How do you learn critical thinking skills How to think critically How to write critically What are critical thinking skills

EP 20: The Importance Of Critical Thinking In Academia & How To Incorporate

Welcome to Episode 20 of the Homework Help Show! Have you ever wondered what your professors mean when they ask you to think critically? How do you learn the critical skills they are asking you to use? This week our Host and Top Writer Cath Anne discussed the importance of critical thinking in academia and gives you a series of skills you can incorporate into your learning right away!

Looking for study tips, help with essay writing, or advice on how to be a better student? Welcome to The Homework Help Show, a weekly show where we teach, assist, and offer valuable insights for student life. From study hacks to writing tips, discussions about student mental health to step-by-step guides on academic writing and how to write a resume, we’ve got you covered. Want your questions answered? Write them below or join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #askHHG


Cath Anne: [00:00:06] What’s up guys? I’m Cath Anne and welcome to Episode 20 of “The Homework Help Show”.

Cath Anne: [00:00:13] I’m really pumped because we have changed our format up a little bit. We were doing live streams quite consistently, but now we are going to be doing a YouTube video a week and a quick Q and A on Instagram Live and Facebook Live, if you guys have any questions. So I’m really excited about this new format. If you’re unfamiliar with this show every week on “The Homework Help Show” we provide you with valuable content for your academic life.

Cath Anne: [00:00:39] This week we’re going to discuss how to incorporate critical thinking skills into your work. Have you ever heard the phrase critical thinking? I’m sure you have. If you are in university this is definitely something that gets thrown around regularly. What does it mean to you? For some people it might mean something quite negative. The word critical evokes a negative connotation. It might suggest that you have to pick things apart or deconstruct things or be really judgmental. In a way it does.

Cath Anne: [00:01:14] However thinking about things critically can also help you to learn and it actually means a lot more than just being a general grump. Critical thinking is a skill that we engage in everyday. It is basically how we make a decision. We are essentially using critical thinking, every time we decide to make decision. It makes sense that this is something that we can apply to our academic career as well.

Cath Anne: [00:01:43] However, in University and College critical thinking definitely has a broader meaning. Be critical means making informed, educational judgments about social issues, literature, math, and other topics that we talk about often in university. It can also mean distinguishing between facts and opinion. It also helps us to determine whether a theory is valid and how to actually apply that theory in context.

Cath Anne: [00:02:17] When we make academic judgments they have to be grounded in research. As you probably know all of your profs are very consistently stringent on whether you are using appropriate academic resources or not. So critical thinking skills allow us to take that information to break it down or deconstruct it and to put it into a really well written essay or to apply it in a test or an exam. The benefit of critical thinking skills is that they allow us to consider things from all sides. So when we access all of this information it might feel a little bit overwhelming but it’s actually great to draw on different perspectives and different ways of knowing and different types of research in order to inform your topic.

Cath Anne: [00:03:12] Critical thinking is a necessary component of academia because it is through the critical thinking process that information is actually developed and that knowledge is contributed to a particular field. So for example, when people are doing research they are looking at past research that has been done on a topic. They’re taking all of the information they’re basically doing a literature review something that you might be familiar with. They’re going through and they’re figuring out where the gaps in this literature and what questions can be answered in order to create new research and to contribute to the field. As a critically thinking student this is something that you are learning.

Cath Anne: [00:03:58] It is important to incorporate this process into your reading, your notetaking, your essay writing, and your presentation. If you are in a professional field such as social work, nursing, or engineering. These are skills that can also apply to your future practice as you are going through school as well.

Cath Anne: [00:04:20] So critical thinking. The cool thing about it is that it doesn’t only apply to academia. It can also help us to navigate our daily lives as well. When we enhance our critical thinking skills if we can improve our decision-making processes and make stronger decisions based on accounting for all of the information that we take in. If we enhance our critical thinking skills, we can improve our decision-making processes and make stronger decisions based on accounting for all of the information. Remember, most of our everyday thinking are uncritical. We generally go through the days without thinking about every step, without deconstructing how we act, without thinking about societal issues, or you know gender roles or any of those topics that come up in academia. However, there is a time in a place when we can use critical thinking in our daily lives and where it can actually contribute to social change and changes in our own lives.

Cath Anne: [00:05:30] Today we’re going to talk about how to use critical thinking in academia and how we actually learn some of these critical thinking skills and apply them to our life as a student and to our academic work. So you might be familiar with when profs give you an assignment. Perhaps your first assignment is quite small, it might be one or two pages and they ask you something pretty basic. The next assignment might build on that and then the third assignment is the final exam. That final piece is where you take all of your assignments and put them all together. That is actually called the scaffolding technique. Your prof is trying to teach you to develop critical thinking skills. It becomes a built in mechanism in academia and in the university and in college. However there are different ways of doing it and different professors and instructors will do it different ways.

Cath Anne: [00:06:35] It’s also really great to be working on your critical thinking skills and being aware of critical thinking skills, as a student so that you can have a one up on your academic work.

Cath Anne: [00:06:46] Let’s discuss one of the first tips that you can use to enhance your critical thinking skills in academia. Ask basic questions. What I mean by that is that is, as we know our social world is really complex and there is tons of information to take in. As students when we’re going through and sifting through research and literature it can often be overwhelming and seem very complicated and just be a little bit over our heads. However we can begin simply by asking simple questions. When in answer to a question becomes very complex we can actually lose the meaning of it. So when you’re starting with an assignment it can be great just to be simple.

Cath Anne: [00:07:32] Take the content that you know and work with that. Ask some of the following questions. What do you already know? If you are in an English class, maybe you’ve taken an English class. Ask what you already know about the topic. Draw on your existing knowledge and information. You will be surprised how much information you already have. Start by creating an outline and answer: what do you already know about this topic? Write it down from there. Ask yourself how do you know that? Maybe you think about some references that you might have had in your first year English class or when it comes to social work, as that’s my background. I remember there were always some specific papers that I consistently referenced throughout my degree because they really stood out to me. What are some references that you can draw on from the past that you’re really familiar with? Can you incorporate them into this work? You might not be able to do this but in this case you can also draw on the existing literature.

Cath Anne: [00:08:33] So if you do have some information about a topic go ahead and do a little bit of research a little bit of digging and see why you actually know. If there is literature to back up what you already know then you’re going to ask yourself: what are you trying to prove/disprove/demonstrate/critique? This process would actually be the beginning process of developing your thesis statement and framing out your assignment. Then you want to ask what are you overlooking. So are there any additional information that you should add to your outline?

Cath Anne: [00:09:10] This can be good in the process of getting you to think a little bit outside the box. Getting you to think critically about the literature and helping you to engage with the literature rather than being overwhelmed. You actually do have some knowledge to contribute and this will begin your process of critical thinking. You can use this technique when it comes to studying as well. It can actually help to solidify some information in your brain when you’re trying to memorize things. This is actually a really good process for either writing a paper or studying. If you have a little bit more time for that.

Cath Anne: [00:09:48] As I mentioned definitely begin this process by doing an outline. This might even be a pre-outline. Just answer these basic questions and this will help you to write your paper a lot more quickly and a lot more fluidly. Engaging in a critical thinking process does not have to be complex even though the word critical can make it feel that it might be a little complex. You definitely don’t have to make him overly complicated. Ask these simple questions and start where you are and then it should all flow from there.

Cath Anne: [00:10:30] A second tip to developing your critical thinking skills is to question your basic assumptions. Particularly when you’re writing a paper or thinking through a problem you are going to be coming at it with your own biases and analyses from everyday life. We all have these basic assumptions and that’s okay. But academic quality work must extend beyond our basic assumptions towards analysis and synthesis of information. When we check our own assumptions at the door we can go into analysis with a clear head and go into research with an open mind. This can also extend beyond academia. This can apply to our mental processes as well.

Cath Anne: [00:11:20] We all have ways of making life simpler. We have shortcuts in the way we do things. This is actually called heuristics, which are basically mental shortcuts. These were things that we used to when we were hunter-gatherers. It was really helpful for us to be able to make quick decisions or have shortcuts in terms of thinking. But nowadays our world is a little bit more complex than the hunter gatherer society. So we do need to be aware of those heuristics that we have built in for ourselves. Certainly they can be useful in some situations but they aren’t necessarily useful when you’re writing an academic paper because you might take a short cut in something. Just be aware of these underlying biases. These heuristics are mental shortcuts. Maybe you write them down just so that you understand your own processes a little bit more.

Cath Anne: [00:12:15] Some other tips are to read more, become more educated, and become more informed about how others think. These are three ways that we can be more aware of our own assumptions our own biases and our own mental shortcuts.

Cath Anne: [00:12:39] A third tip to improve your critical thinking skills is to remember to think for yourself. Although you will evidently be drawing on academic literature and information when you do the research and write papers, it is important to remember to think for yourself. While this does not mean incorporating your own opinion or biases into your writing it does mean that you must analyze the situation through a critical lens. So go back and ask. Basic questions as we discussed. What is missing? Is there a gap in the literature? What is this research saying? Does it make sense in in relation to other research that you see on the topic?

Cath Anne: [00:13:21] Think through the literature using your own power of deduction. So although you will be drawing on resources to make your point you want to make sure that you’re using your own critical thinking skills because you’ll be increasing that critical thinking muscle. This will lead to a stronger paper and it will also show the professor that you can do more than regurgitate literature because that is what they’re looking for. They’re looking for you to analyze and grapple with the data. So make sure that you are truly engaging with the literature and thinking through it yourself.

Cath Anne: [00:13:55] So finally I wanted to give you a five step process. We’ve already talked about this a little bit but this was actually developed by TED ED, TED Talks educational YouTube channel. It can help you to develop your critical thinking skills.

Cath Anne: [00:14:12] The first step in the process is to formulate your question. So in an academic setting this looks like creating your thesis or writing your hypothesis. What is the question that you’re looking at. Often if you’re writing an academic paper, this will already be given to you in the outline provided by the professor. You will also have to enhance it and develop it yourself. Dig into the research. Figure out what there is out there on the topic and really take a few days to get engaged with the research and the literature so that you can develop your own opinion on the topic.

Cath Anne: [00:14:52] Apply the information. So ask yourself what concepts are at work? What assumptions exist? Is your interpretation logically sound?

Cath Anne: [00:15:01] So again this is a process of going back to your own mental biases, your own heuristics. Understanding whether your assessment of the information makes sense in relation to the literature that you’re reviewing. Consider the implications of this information. So what does this research imply in terms of the world? Are they making any suggestions about how to change things? Are they making any suggestions about how this scientific research will apply to human nature? So what does this information mean? Because when you’re considering that it’ll also allow you to develop a stronger critical analysis and understand the information in context.

Cath Anne: [00:15:46] Then fifth you want to explore other points of view. This is absolutely necessary when you are writing an academic paper because you don’t only want to provide one view of a topic or one analysis of some research because you want to have a well-rounded analysis. By presenting and exploring other points of view, you’re also going to have a stronger argument because you’re going to understand what the other person or what the other group of people will say about the topic. You will be able to therefore strengthen your own argument.

Cath Anne: [00:16:29] So, guys that is it for this week. I hope this video was helpful for you. Thank you so much for tuning into “The Homework Help Show”. I’m really excited for our new format and I’m really hoping that you will join us again.

Cath Anne: [00:16:44] As I mentioned on Thursday we’re going to be jumping on live for about 10 minutes on Instagram Live and Facebook Live just for a little Q and A session. We’ll also be jumping on to remind you to check out this YouTube video. So if you are interested in any more of our content we have tons of it out there please visit us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Plus, YouTube, Medium. And we’re also on SoundCloud, Anchor, iTunes Apple podcasts, Google Play Music. If you are more of a listener. All you have to do is search for Homework Help Global and we will be there. Also just a little reminder if you did like this video please SUBSCRIBE below and give us a thumbs up. That would be great and would really help us. So if you have any other questions please leave them in the comments below and I am looking forward to seeing you again.

Cath Anne: [00:17:40] Take care guys.

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Critical thinking for critical writing

On this page, non-critical vs. critical reading, modes of critical analysis, steps to writing critically, implications for writing.

Critical writing depends on critical thinking. Your writing will involve reflection on written texts: that is, critical reading.

Your critical reading of a text and thinking about a text enables you to use it to make your own arguments. As a critical thinker and writer, you make judgments and interpretations of the ideas, arguments, and claims of others presented in the texts you read.

The key is this: don’t read looking only or primarily for information . Instead, read to determine ways of thinking about the subject matter.

Non-critical   reading is focused on learning the information provided by a source. In this mode, a reader focuses on understanding the information, ideas, and opinions stated within the text. 

Sometimes non-critical reading is a part of our day-to-day lives. For example, we may consult a weather report to help us decide whether or not we need to pack an umbrella when we leave the house. Often, we don't need to be critical readers to get the information we need about the weather. However, if the weather report states that it will be a "sunny, cloudless day" and we can see that it is pouring outside our window, we will likely bring our critical reading abilities back into play! 

How to read critically

1. Determine the central claims or purpose of the text (its thesis). A critical reading attempts to identify and assess how these central claims are developed and argued.

2. Begin to make some judgments about context .

  • What audience is the text written for?
  • Who is it in dialogue with?
  • In what historical context is it written?

3. Distinguish the kinds of reasoning the text employs.

  • What concepts are defined and used?
  • Does the text appeal to a theory or theories?
  • Is any specific methodology laid out?
  • If there is an appeal to a particular concept, theory, or method, how is that concept, theory, or method then used to organize and interpret the data?
  • How has the author analyzed (broken down) the material?

4. Examine the evidence (the supporting facts, examples, etc.) the text employs. Supporting evidence is indispensable to an argument, so consider the kinds of evidence used: Statistical? Literary? Historical? From what sources is the evidence taken? Are these sources primary or secondary?

5. Critical reading may involve evaluation . Your reading of a text is already critical if it accounts for and makes a series of judgments about how a text is argued. Some assignments may also require you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an argument.

Why to read critically

Critical reading is an important step for many academic assignments. Critically engaging with the work of others is often a first step in developing our own arguments, interpretations, and analysis. 

Critical reading often involves re-reading a text multiple times, putting our focus on different aspects of the text. The first time we read a text, we may be focused on getting an overall sense of the information the author is presenting - in other words, simply understanding what they are trying to say. On subsequent readings, however, we can focus on how the author presents that information, the kinds of evidence they provide to support their arguments (and how convincing we find that evidence), the connection between their evidence and their conclusions, etc. etc. 

Example:  A non-critical thinker/reader might read a history book to learn the facts of the situation or to discover an accepted interpretation of those events.

A critical thinker/reader might read the same work to appreciate how a particular perspective on the events and a particular selection of facts can lead to a particular understanding. A critical thinker/reader will likely also think about the perspectives of that event that are NOT being considered or presented in the text. 

What a text says  – restatement . Talks about the same topic as the original text. What a text does – description . Focuses on aspects of the discussion itself. What a text means – interpretation . Analyzes the text and asserts a meaning for the text as a whole.

TIP: An interpretation includes references to the content (the specific actions referred to), the language (the specific terms used), and the structure (such as the relationship between characters).

1. Take a critical stance:  recognize that every text, author, and argument comes from a perspective and is subject to interpretation and analysis.

2. Pay close attention : read texts not just for  what they say  but also for  how they say it . Notice examples, evidence, word choice, structure, etc. Consider the "fit" between the information a text provides and the way it provides that information. 

3. Think big picture : read texts in their context. This can sometimes also involve doing some research about your sources to learn more about the author, the time in which the text was written, the sources that funded the research, etc. 

4. Bring yourself in : critical writing also involves developing your own understandings, interpretations, analysis, and arguments in response to the texts you are reading. Sometimes this is accomplished by considering the connections/points of divergence between several texts you are reading. It can also involve bringing in your own perspectives and experiences to support or challenge evidence, examples, and/or conclusions. 

Writing critically involves:

  • Providing appropriate and sufficient arguments and examples
  • Choosing terms that are precise, appropriate, and persuasive
  • Making clear the transitions from one thought to another to ensure the overall logic of the presentation
  • Editing for content, structure, and language

An increased awareness of the impact of choices of content, language, and structure can help you as a writer to develop habits of rewriting and revision.

Reference: this resource was adapted from Dan Kurland's Critical Reading, at its Core, Plain and Simple


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