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The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think – Albert Einstein

Critical thinking is arguably one of the most important modes of thought you will develop through higher education. It enables you to analyse, critique, retain, and most importantly, be reflexive about what you learn.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of being able to think reflexively and clearly with an emphasis on reasoned and critical analysis. It is the process of evaluating information, understanding and critiquing our implicit and explicit biases and sociocentric and ethnocentric ways of thinking. This mode of thought can be applied to any problem, content or subject – being able to identify assumptions, assess arguments and infer conclusions are important skills across all disciplines.

How to become a critical thinker:

In order to become a critical thinker, one must first understand what critical thinking encompasses. The Open University (2009) has outlined a step by step skill list that supports critical thinking (featured here):

1. Process – Absorb the information (in what you have read, heard, seen or done).

2. Understand – Comprehend the main points, arguments, assumptions and evidence offered.

3. Analyse – Examine how these main components connect and relate to each other.

4. Compare – Consider the similarities and differences between the concepts you are studying.

5. Synthesise – Combine different sources of information to serve an argument or idea you are constructing. Make logical connections between the different sources that help you form and substantiate your ideas.

6. Evaluate – Assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs, the evidence on which it is based and how it relates to other relevant ideas.

7. Apply – Transfer the understanding you have gained from your critical evaluation and use in response to questions, assignments and projects.

8. Justify – Use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, make inferences and identify implications.

Using critical thinking in your work:

One way to begin the incorporation of critical thinking into the analysis and production of your work is to ask questions. Asking questions is central to thinking critically. Questioning sources, narratives, methodology and perspective, for example, allows us to develop a critical analysis based on a reasoned and well-rounded interpretation of sources of information. When critically reviewing sources to use or analyse in your work, for instance, The Open University suggests asking the following questions:

  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • What is their point of view or perspective?
  • What ideas and information are presented and how were they obtained?
  • Are there unsupported assertions?
  • Are relevant reasons or evidence provided?
  • Is the method used to find the evidence sound?
  • Is the evidence correct or valid?
  • What assumptions have been made?
  • What is fact and what is opinion?
  • What are the implicit and explicit values?
  • Are there unreasonable generalisations?
  • What has been omitted?
  • How was the conclusion reached?
  • Is the conclusion reasonable?
  • What other perspectives or points of view could there be?

Empowerment through critical thinking:

I view critical thinking as a form of empowerment for students – it enables us to understand and critique social, cultural and political structures and systems. Thinking critically allows us to question ourselves, those around us, and our positionality within the structures we live in. By questioning and evaluating what we learn, we enable ourselves to form our own opinions, write our own analyses and contribute to changes within our disciplines, and society more broadly. Critical thinking provides the tools we need to empower ourselves, but it is up to us to use them.

— Stay tuned for more posts as part of the ‘Study Skills Series’!




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