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Why Is Critical Thinking Important? A Survival Guide

critical thinking is not necessary

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: April 2, 2020

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Why is critical thinking important? The decisions that you make affect your quality of life. And if you want to ensure that you live your best, most successful and happy life, you’re going to want to make conscious choices. That can be done with a simple thing known as critical thinking. Here’s how to improve your critical thinking skills and make decisions that you won’t regret.

What Is Critical Thinking?

You’ve surely heard of critical thinking, but you might not be entirely sure what it really means, and that’s because there are many definitions. For the most part, however, we think of critical thinking as the process of analyzing facts in order to form a judgment. Basically, it’s thinking about thinking.

How Has The Definition Evolved Over Time?

The first time critical thinking was documented is believed to be in the teachings of Socrates , recorded by Plato. But throughout history, the definition has changed.

Today it is best understood by philosophers and psychologists and it’s believed to be a highly complex concept. Some insightful modern-day critical thinking definitions include :

  • “Reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.”
  • “Deciding what’s true and what you should do.”

The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Why is critical thinking important? Good question! Here are a few undeniable reasons why it’s crucial to have these skills.

1. Critical Thinking Is Universal

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. What does this mean? It means that no matter what path or profession you pursue, these skills will always be relevant and will always be beneficial to your success. They are not specific to any field.

2. Crucial For The Economy

Our future depends on technology, information, and innovation. Critical thinking is needed for our fast-growing economies, to solve problems as quickly and as effectively as possible.

3. Improves Language & Presentation Skills

In order to best express ourselves, we need to know how to think clearly and systematically — meaning practice critical thinking! Critical thinking also means knowing how to break down texts, and in turn, improve our ability to comprehend.

4. Promotes Creativity

By practicing critical thinking, we are allowing ourselves not only to solve problems but also to come up with new and creative ideas to do so. Critical thinking allows us to analyze these ideas and adjust them accordingly.

5. Important For Self-Reflection

Without critical thinking, how can we really live a meaningful life? We need this skill to self-reflect and justify our ways of life and opinions. Critical thinking provides us with the tools to evaluate ourselves in the way that we need to.

Woman deep into thought as she looks out the window, using her critical thinking skills to do some self-reflection.

6. The Basis Of Science & Democracy

In order to have a democracy and to prove scientific facts, we need critical thinking in the world. Theories must be backed up with knowledge. In order for a society to effectively function, its citizens need to establish opinions about what’s right and wrong (by using critical thinking!).

Benefits Of Critical Thinking

We know that critical thinking is good for society as a whole, but what are some benefits of critical thinking on an individual level? Why is critical thinking important for us?

1. Key For Career Success

Critical thinking is crucial for many career paths. Not just for scientists, but lawyers , doctors, reporters, engineers , accountants, and analysts (among many others) all have to use critical thinking in their positions. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the most desirable skills to have in the workforce, as it helps analyze information, think outside the box, solve problems with innovative solutions, and plan systematically.

2. Better Decision Making

There’s no doubt about it — critical thinkers make the best choices. Critical thinking helps us deal with everyday problems as they come our way, and very often this thought process is even done subconsciously. It helps us think independently and trust our gut feeling.

3. Can Make You Happier!

While this often goes unnoticed, being in touch with yourself and having a deep understanding of why you think the way you think can really make you happier. Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life.

4. Form Well-Informed Opinions

There is no shortage of information coming at us from all angles. And that’s exactly why we need to use our critical thinking skills and decide for ourselves what to believe. Critical thinking allows us to ensure that our opinions are based on the facts, and help us sort through all that extra noise.

5. Better Citizens

One of the most inspiring critical thinking quotes is by former US president Thomas Jefferson: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” What Jefferson is stressing to us here is that critical thinkers make better citizens, as they are able to see the entire picture without getting sucked into biases and propaganda.

6. Improves Relationships

While you may be convinced that being a critical thinker is bound to cause you problems in relationships, this really couldn’t be less true! Being a critical thinker can allow you to better understand the perspective of others, and can help you become more open-minded towards different views.

7. Promotes Curiosity

Critical thinkers are constantly curious about all kinds of things in life, and tend to have a wide range of interests. Critical thinking means constantly asking questions and wanting to know more, about why, what, who, where, when, and everything else that can help them make sense of a situation or concept, never taking anything at face value.

8. Allows For Creativity

Critical thinkers are also highly creative thinkers, and see themselves as limitless when it comes to possibilities. They are constantly looking to take things further, which is crucial in the workforce.

9. Enhances Problem Solving Skills

Those with critical thinking skills tend to solve problems as part of their natural instinct. Critical thinkers are patient and committed to solving the problem, similar to Albert Einstein, one of the best critical thinking examples, who said “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Critical thinkers’ enhanced problem-solving skills makes them better at their jobs and better at solving the world’s biggest problems. Like Einstein, they have the potential to literally change the world.

10. An Activity For The Mind

Just like our muscles, in order for them to be strong, our mind also needs to be exercised and challenged. It’s safe to say that critical thinking is almost like an activity for the mind — and it needs to be practiced. Critical thinking encourages the development of many crucial skills such as logical thinking, decision making, and open-mindness.

11. Creates Independence

When we think critically, we think on our own as we trust ourselves more. Critical thinking is key to creating independence, and encouraging students to make their own decisions and form their own opinions.

12. Crucial Life Skill

Critical thinking is crucial not just for learning, but for life overall! Education isn’t just a way to prepare ourselves for life, but it’s pretty much life itself. Learning is a lifelong process that we go through each and every day.

How to Think Critically

Now that you know the benefits of thinking critically, how do you actually do it?

How To Improve Your Critical Thinking

  • Define Your Question: When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you’re trying to achieve, and then figure out how to best get there.
  • Gather Reliable Information: Make sure that you’re using sources you can trust — biases aside. That’s how a real critical thinker operates!
  • Ask The Right Questions: We all know the importance of questions, but be sure that you’re asking the right questions that are going to get you to your answer.
  • Look Short & Long Term: When coming up with solutions, think about both the short- and long-term consequences. Both of them are significant in the equation.
  • Explore All Sides: There is never just one simple answer, and nothing is black or white. Explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

How Is Critical Thinking Developed At School?

Critical thinking is developed in nearly everything we do. However, much of this important skill is encouraged to be practiced at school, and rightfully so! Critical thinking goes beyond just thinking clearly — it’s also about thinking for yourself.

When a teacher asks a question in class, students are given the chance to answer for themselves and think critically about what they learned and what they believe to be accurate. When students work in groups and are forced to engage in discussion, this is also a great chance to expand their thinking and use their critical thinking skills.

How Does Critical Thinking Apply To Your Career?

Once you’ve finished school and entered the workforce, your critical thinking journey only expands and grows from here!

Impress Your Employer

Employers value employees who are critical thinkers, ask questions, offer creative ideas, and are always ready to offer innovation against the competition. No matter what your position or role in a company may be, critical thinking will always give you the power to stand out and make a difference.

Careers That Require Critical Thinking

Some of many examples of careers that require critical thinking include:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Marketing associate
  • Business analyst

Truth be told however, it’s probably harder to come up with a professional field that doesn’t require any critical thinking!

Photo by  Oladimeji Ajegbile  from  Pexels

What is someone with critical thinking skills capable of doing.

Someone with critical thinking skills is able to think rationally and clearly about what they should or not believe. They are capable of engaging in their own thoughts, and doing some reflection in order to come to a well-informed conclusion.

A critical thinker understands the connections between ideas, and is able to construct arguments based on facts, as well as find mistakes in reasoning.

The Process Of Critical Thinking

The process of critical thinking is highly systematic.

What Are Your Goals?

Critical thinking starts by defining your goals, and knowing what you are ultimately trying to achieve.

Once you know what you are trying to conclude, you can foresee your solution to the problem and play it out in your head from all perspectives.

What Does The Future Of Critical Thinking Hold?

The future of critical thinking is the equivalent of the future of jobs. In 2020, critical thinking was ranked as the 2nd top skill (following complex problem solving) by the World Economic Forum .

We are dealing with constant unprecedented changes, and what success is today, might not be considered success tomorrow — making critical thinking a key skill for the future workforce.

Why Is Critical Thinking So Important?

Why is critical thinking important? Critical thinking is more than just important! It’s one of the most crucial cognitive skills one can develop.

By practicing well-thought-out thinking, both your thoughts and decisions can make a positive change in your life, on both a professional and personal level. You can hugely improve your life by working on your critical thinking skills as often as you can.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.

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Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It’s Important

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Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It’s Important was originally published on Ivy Exec .

Strong critical thinking skills are crucial for career success, regardless of educational background. It embodies the ability to engage in astute and effective decision-making, lending invaluable dimensions to professional growth.

At its essence, critical thinking is the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information in a logical and reasoned manner. It’s not merely about accumulating knowledge but harnessing it effectively to make informed decisions and solve complex problems. In the dynamic landscape of modern careers, honing this skill is paramount.

The Impact of Critical Thinking on Your Career

☑ problem-solving mastery.

Visualize critical thinking as the Sherlock Holmes of your career journey. It facilitates swift problem resolution akin to a detective unraveling a mystery. By methodically analyzing situations and deconstructing complexities, critical thinkers emerge as adept problem solvers, rendering them invaluable assets in the workplace.

☑ Refined Decision-Making

Navigating dilemmas in your career path resembles traversing uncertain terrain. Critical thinking acts as a dependable GPS, steering you toward informed decisions. It involves weighing options, evaluating potential outcomes, and confidently choosing the most favorable path forward.

☑ Enhanced Teamwork Dynamics

Within collaborative settings, critical thinkers stand out as proactive contributors. They engage in scrutinizing ideas, proposing enhancements, and fostering meaningful contributions. Consequently, the team evolves into a dynamic hub of ideas, with the critical thinker recognized as the architect behind its success.

☑ Communication Prowess

Effective communication is the cornerstone of professional interactions. Critical thinking enriches communication skills, enabling the clear and logical articulation of ideas. Whether in emails, presentations, or casual conversations, individuals adept in critical thinking exude clarity, earning appreciation for their ability to convey thoughts seamlessly.

☑ Adaptability and Resilience

Perceptive individuals adept in critical thinking display resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges. Instead of succumbing to panic, they assess situations, recalibrate their approaches, and persist in moving forward despite adversity.

☑ Fostering Innovation

Innovation is the lifeblood of progressive organizations, and critical thinking serves as its catalyst. Proficient critical thinkers possess the ability to identify overlooked opportunities, propose inventive solutions, and streamline processes, thereby positioning their organizations at the forefront of innovation.

☑ Confidence Amplification

Critical thinkers exude confidence derived from honing their analytical skills. This self-assurance radiates during job interviews, presentations, and daily interactions, catching the attention of superiors and propelling career advancement.

So, how can one cultivate and harness this invaluable skill?

✅ developing curiosity and inquisitiveness:.

Embrace a curious mindset by questioning the status quo and exploring topics beyond your immediate scope. Cultivate an inquisitive approach to everyday situations. Encourage a habit of asking “why” and “how” to deepen understanding. Curiosity fuels the desire to seek information and alternative perspectives.

✅ Practice Reflection and Self-Awareness:

Engage in reflective thinking by assessing your thoughts, actions, and decisions. Regularly introspect to understand your biases, assumptions, and cognitive processes. Cultivate self-awareness to recognize personal prejudices or cognitive biases that might influence your thinking. This allows for a more objective analysis of situations.

✅ Strengthening Analytical Skills:

Practice breaking down complex problems into manageable components. Analyze each part systematically to understand the whole picture. Develop skills in data analysis, statistics, and logical reasoning. This includes understanding correlation versus causation, interpreting graphs, and evaluating statistical significance.

✅ Engaging in Active Listening and Observation:

Actively listen to diverse viewpoints without immediately forming judgments. Allow others to express their ideas fully before responding. Observe situations attentively, noticing details that others might overlook. This habit enhances your ability to analyze problems more comprehensively.

✅ Encouraging Intellectual Humility and Open-Mindedness:

Foster intellectual humility by acknowledging that you don’t know everything. Be open to learning from others, regardless of their position or expertise. Cultivate open-mindedness by actively seeking out perspectives different from your own. Engage in discussions with people holding diverse opinions to broaden your understanding.

✅ Practicing Problem-Solving and Decision-Making:

Engage in regular problem-solving exercises that challenge you to think creatively and analytically. This can include puzzles, riddles, or real-world scenarios. When making decisions, consciously evaluate available information, consider various alternatives, and anticipate potential outcomes before reaching a conclusion.

✅ Continuous Learning and Exposure to Varied Content:

Read extensively across diverse subjects and formats, exposing yourself to different viewpoints, cultures, and ways of thinking. Engage in courses, workshops, or seminars that stimulate critical thinking skills. Seek out opportunities for learning that challenge your existing beliefs.

✅ Engage in Constructive Disagreement and Debate:

Encourage healthy debates and discussions where differing opinions are respectfully debated.

This practice fosters the ability to defend your viewpoints logically while also being open to changing your perspective based on valid arguments. Embrace disagreement as an opportunity to learn rather than a conflict to win. Engaging in constructive debate sharpens your ability to evaluate and counter-arguments effectively.

✅ Utilize Problem-Based Learning and Real-World Applications:

Engage in problem-based learning activities that simulate real-world challenges. Work on projects or scenarios that require critical thinking skills to develop practical problem-solving approaches. Apply critical thinking in real-life situations whenever possible.

This could involve analyzing news articles, evaluating product reviews, or dissecting marketing strategies to understand their underlying rationale.

In conclusion, critical thinking is the linchpin of a successful career journey. It empowers individuals to navigate complexities, make informed decisions, and innovate in their respective domains. Embracing and honing this skill isn’t just an advantage; it’s a necessity in a world where adaptability and sound judgment reign supreme.

So, as you traverse your career path, remember that the ability to think critically is not just an asset but the differentiator that propels you toward excellence.

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

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Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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3 Core Critical Thinking Skills Every Thinker Should Have

Critically thinking about critical thinking skills..

Posted March 13, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

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I recently received an email from an educator friend, asking me to briefly describe the skills necessary for critical thinking. They were happy to fill in the blanks themselves from outside reading but wanted to know what specific skills they should focus on teaching their students. I took this as a good opportunity to dedicate a post here to such discussion, in order to provide my friend and any other interested parties with an overview.

To understand critical thinking skills and how they factor into critical thinking, one first needs a definition of the latter. Critical thinking (CT) is a metacognitive process, consisting of a number of skills and dispositions, that when used through self-regulatory reflective judgment, increases the chances of producing a logical conclusion to an argument or solution to a problem (Dwyer, 2017; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2014). On the surface, this definition clarifies two issues. First, critical thinking is metacognitive—simply, it requires the individual to think about thinking; second, its main components are reflective judgment, dispositions, and skills.

Below the surface, this description requires clarification; hence the impetus for this entry—what is meant by reflective judgment, disposition towards CT, and CT skills? Reflective judgment (i.e. an individuals' understanding of the nature, limits, and certainty of knowing and how this can affect their judgments [King & Kitchener, 1994]) and disposition towards CT (i.e. an inclination, tendency or willingness to perform a given thinking skill [Dwyer, 2017; Facione, Facione & Giancarlo, 1997; Ku, 2009; Norris, 1992; Siegel, 1999; Valenzuela, Nieto & Saiz, 2011]) have both already been covered in my posts; so, consistent with the aim of this piece, let’s discuss CT skills.

CT skills allow individuals to transcend lower-order, memorization-based learning strategies to gain a more complex understanding of the information or problems they encounter (Halpern, 2014). Though debate is ongoing over the definition of CT, one list stands out as a reasonable consensus conceptualization of CT skills. In 1988, a committee of 46 experts in the field of CT gathered to discuss CT conceptualisations, resulting in the Delphi Report; within which was overwhelmingly agreement (i.e. 95% consensus) that analysis , evaluation and inference were the core skills necessary for CT (Facione, 1990). Indeed, over 30 years later, these three CT skills remain the most commonly cited.

1. Analysis

Analysis is a core CT skill used to identify and examine the structure of an argument, the propositions within an argument and the role they play (e.g. the main conclusion, the premises and reasons provided to support the conclusion, objections to the conclusion and inferential relationships among propositions), as well as the sources of the propositions (e.g. personal experience, common belief, and research).

When it comes to analysing the basis for a standpoint, the structure of the argument can be extracted for subsequent evaluation (e.g. from dialogue and text). This can be accomplished through looking for propositions that either support or refute the central claim or other reasons and objections. Through analysis, the argument’s hierarchical structure begins to appear. Notably, argument mapping can aid the visual representation of this hierarchical structure and is supported by research as having positive effects on critical thinking (Butchart et al., 2009; Dwyer, 2011; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2012; van Gelder, Bisset & Cumming, 2004).

2. Evaluation

Evaluation is a core CT skill that is used in the assessment of propositions and claims (identified through the previous analysis ) with respect to their credibility; relevance; balance, bias (and potential omissions); as well as the logical strength amongst propositions (i.e. the strength of the inferential relationships). Such assessment allows for informed judgment regarding the overall strength or weakness of an argument (Dwyer, 2017; Facione, 1990). If an argument (or its propositions) is not credible, relevant, logical, and unbiased, you should consider excluding it or discussing its weaknesses as an objection.

Evaluating the credibility of claims and arguments involves progressing beyond merely identifying the source of propositions in an argument, to actually examining the "trustworthiness" of those identified sources (e.g. personal experiences, common beliefs/opinions, expert/authority opinion and scientific evidence). This is particularly important because some sources are more credible than others. Evaluation also implies deep consideration of the relevance of claims within an argument, which is accomplished by assessing the contextual relevance of claims and premises—that is, the pertinence or applicability of one proposition to another.

With respect to balance, bias (and potential omissions), it's important to consider the "slant" of an argument—if it seems imbalanced in favour of one line of thinking, then it’s quite possible that the argument has omitted key, opposing points that should also be considered. Imbalance may also imply some level of bias in the argument—another factor that should also be assessed.

critical thinking is not necessary

However, just because an argument is balanced does not mean that it isn’t biased. It may very well be the case that the "opposing views" presented have been "cherry-picked" because they are easily disputed (akin to building a strawman ); thus, making supporting reasons appear stronger than they may actually be—and this is just one example of how a balanced argument may, in fact, be biased. The take-home message regarding balance, bias, and potential omissions should be that, in any argument, you should construct an understanding of the author or speaker’s motivations and consider how these might influence the structure and contents of the argument.

Finally, evaluating the logical strength of an argument is accomplished through monitoring both the logical relationships amongst propositions and the claims they infer. Assessment of logical strength can actually be aided through subsequent inference, as a means of double-checking the logical strength. For example, this can be checked by asking whether or not a particular proposition can actually be inferred based on the propositions that precede it. A useful means of developing this sub-skill is through practicing syllogistic reasoning .

3. Inference

Similar to other educational concepts like synthesis (e.g., see Bloom et al., 1956; Dwyer, 2011; 2017), the final core CT skill, inference , involves the “gathering” of credible, relevant and logical evidence based on the previous analysis and evaluation, for the purpose of drawing a reasonable conclusion (Dwyer, 2017; Facione, 1990). Drawing a conclusion always implies some act of synthesis (i.e. the ability to put parts of information together to form a new whole; see Dwyer, 2011). However, inference is a unique form of synthesis in that it involves the formulation of a set of conclusions derived from a series of arguments or a body of evidence. This inference may imply accepting a conclusion pointed to by an author in light of the evidence they present, or "conjecturing an alternative," equally logical, conclusion or argument based on the available evidence (Facione, 1990). The ability to infer a conclusion in this manner can be completed through formal logic strategies, informal logic strategies (or both) in order to derive intermediate conclusions, as well as central claims.

Another important aspect of inference involves the querying of available evidence, for example, by recognising the need for additional information, gathering it and judging the plausibility of utilising such information for the purpose of drawing a conclusion. Notably, in the context of querying evidence and conjecturing alternative conclusions, inference overlaps with evaluation to a certain degree in that both skills are used to judge the relevance and acceptability of a claim or argument. Furthermore, after inferring a conclusion, the resulting argument should be re-evaluated to ensure that it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that was derived.

Overall, the application of critical thinking skills is a process—one must analyse, evaluate and then infer; and this process can be repeated to ensure that a reasonable conclusion has been drawn. In an effort to simplify the description of this process, for the past few years, I’ve used the analogy of picking apples for baking . We begin by picking apples from a tree. Consider the tree as an analogy, in its own right, for an argument, which is often hierarchically structured like a tree-diagram. By picking apples, I mean identifying propositions and the role they play (i.e. analysis). Once we pick an apple, we evaluate it—we make sure it isn’t rotten (i.e. lacks credibility, is biased) and is suitable for baking (i.e. relevant and logically strong). Finally, we infer— we gather the apples in a basket and bring them home and group them together based on some rationale for construction— maybe four for a pie, three for a crumble and another four for a tart. By the end of the process, we have baked some apple-based goods, or developed a conclusion, solution or decision through critical thinking.

Of course, there is more to critical thinking than the application of skills—a critical thinker must also have the disposition to think critically and engage reflective judgment. However, without the appropriate skills—analysis, evaluation, and inference, it is not likely that CT will be applied. For example, though one might be willing to use CT skills and engage reflective judgment, they may not know how to do so. Conversely, though one might be aware of which CT skills to use in a given context and may have the capacity to perform well when using these skills, they may not be disposed to use them (Valenzuela, Nieto & Saiz, 2011). Though the core CT skills of analysis, evaluation, and inference are not the only important aspects of CT, they are essential for its application.

Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.

Butchart, S., Bigelow, J., Oppy, G., Korb, K., & Gold, I. (2009). Improving critical thinking using web-based argument mapping exercises with automated feedback. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25, 2, 268-291.

Dwyer, C.P. (2011). The evaluation of argument mapping as a learning tool. Doctoral Thesis. National University of Ireland, Galway.

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2012). An evaluation of argument mapping as a method of enhancing critical thinking performance in e-learning environments. Metacognition and Learning, 7, 219-244.

Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2014). An integrated critical thinking framework for the 21st century. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43–52.

Facione, P.A. (1990). The Delphi report: Committee on pre-college philosophy. Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

Facione, P.A., Facione, N.C., & Giancarlo, C.A. (1997). Setting expectations for student learning: New directions for higher education. Millbrae: California Academic Press.

Halpern, D.F. (2014). Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (5th Ed.). UK: Psychology Press.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Ku, K.Y.L. (2009). Assessing students’ critical thinking performance: Urging for measurements using multi-response format. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 4, 1, 70- 76.

Norris, S. P. (Ed.). (1992). The generalizability of critical thinking: Multiple perspectives on an educational ideal. New York: Teachers College Press.

Siegel, H. (1999). What (good) are thinking dispositions? Educational Theory, 49, 2, 207-221.

Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A.M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9, 2, 823-848.

van Gelder, T.J., Bissett, M., & Cumming, G. (2004). Enhancing expertise in informal reasoning. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology 58, 142-52.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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Critical Thinking & Why It’s So Important

Critical thinking is a cognitive skill with the power to unlock the full potential of your mind. In today’s rapidly evolving society, where information is abundant but discerning its validity is becoming increasingly challenging, the art of critical thinking has never been more crucial.

At Nichols College, we believe that cultivating strong critical thinking abilities is not just a pursuit for the academically inclined, but a fundamental necessity for individuals across all walks of life. Join us as we explore the significance of critical thinking and the remarkable impact it can have on your decision-making, problem-solving, and overall cognitive prowess.

Discover why our Graduate Certificate program in Advanced Critical Thinking and Decision Making is your gateway to becoming a perceptive and adept thinker, ready to tackle the complex challenges of today’s world with confidence and ingenuity.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a fundamental skill that allows individuals to analyze, evaluate, and interpret information objectively and rationally. It goes beyond merely accepting information at face value; instead, critical thinkers are equipped to delve deeper, question assumptions, and explore various perspectives before arriving at well-informed conclusions. This ability to think critically is highly valued across various domains, including education, business, and everyday life.

Benefits of using critical thinking

The countless advantages of critical thinking extend far beyond the realms of academia. For starters, critical thinking fosters superior decision-making by equipping individuals with the tools to weigh options, assess consequences, and arrive at better choices. Critical thinkers also benefit from heightened self-reflection, gaining a profound understanding of their own biases and areas for improvement.

Critical thinkers become well-informed individuals who can navigate the sea of information with discernment, adeptly identifying misinformation and unreliable sources. Furthermore, this invaluable skill enables creative problem-solving, allowing thinkers to craft innovative solutions to intricate challenges. Some of the most important benefits of using critical thinking include:

Better decision making

Critical thinkers excel at weighing pros and cons, considering alternatives, and anticipating potential consequences. This leads to more informed and effective decision-making processes, both in personal and professional realms.

Better self-reflection

By fostering a habit of introspection, critical thinkers become more self-aware, recognizing their own biases and limitations. This heightened self-awareness allows them to continually improve and adapt their thinking patterns.

Being well-informed

Critical thinkers actively seek out diverse sources of information, ensuring they have a comprehensive understanding of complex issues. This empowers them to engage in meaningful discussions and contribute constructively to their communities.

The ability to identify misinformation

In a world filled with misinformation, critical thinkers possess the skills to discern fact from fiction. They scrutinize sources, verify information, and avoid being misled by deceptive content.

Building creative problem solving skills

Critical thinking encourages innovative and outside-the-box problem-solving approaches. By considering multiple angles and challenging conventional ideas, critical thinkers arrive at inventive solutions to complex challenges.

What skills do critical thinkers have?

Critical thinkers possess a remarkable set of skills that elevate their cognitive abilities and enable them to approach complex issues with acuity. Embracing these skills empowers them to tackle challenges, unravel complexities, and make meaningful insights and well-informed decisions. Some of the most valuable skills critical thinkers have include:

Critical thinkers have a natural inclination to ask questions and explore topics in-depth. Their thirst for knowledge drives them to seek out answers and continually expand their understanding.

Proficient in conducting thorough research, critical thinkers gather information from reliable sources and assess its validity. They are skilled at distinguishing credible data from biased or unsubstantiated claims.

Pattern recognition

Critical thinkers recognize recurring patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information. This allows them to draw meaningful insights and make well-founded predictions.

Bias identification

Having honed the ability to identify biases, critical thinkers remain open-minded and impartial in their assessments. They acknowledge their own biases and strive to approach each situation objectively.

How to use critical thinking skills in the workplace

In any work environment, critical thinking is a valuable asset that can enhance productivity and foster a more innovative and collaborative workplace. Employees with strong critical thinking skills contribute to problem-solving sessions, provide constructive feedback, and make informed decisions based on thorough analysis. By promoting critical thinking, organizations encourage employees to challenge assumptions, seek out novel solutions, and contribute to the overall growth and success of the company.

Examples of good critical thinking in action

The real-world application of critical thinking can be awe-inspiring, as it empowers individuals to approach various scenarios with astute judgment and creativity. In the business realm and with regard to project management, critical thinkers demonstrate their prowess by:

  • Analyzing Market Trends : A marketing professional employs critical thinking skills to assess market trends, consumer behavior, and competitor strategies before devising a successful marketing campaign that aligns with the target audience’s needs.
  • Problem-Solving in Project Management : A project manager utilizes critical thinking to identify potential roadblocks, consider alternative approaches, and ensure projects are executed efficiently and within budget.

Furthermore, critical thinkers shine in scientific research, meticulously evaluating data, and drawing evidence-based conclusions that contribute to groundbreaking discoveries. In everyday life, they navigate the digital landscape with discernment, identifying misinformation and making informed decisions about their health, finances, and general well-being. These examples illustrate the power of critical thinking to transform not only individual lives but also entire industries, making it an indispensable skill in the pursuit of success and progress.

Get a critical thinking graduate certificate from Nichols College

If you are eager to enhance your problem-solving abilities, decision-making processes, and overall cognitive skills, the Nichols College graduate certificate in critical thinking may be right for you. Designed to equip individuals with the necessary tools to excel in today’s complex world, this program will empower you to think critically, analyze data effectively, and approach challenges with creativity and confidence. Elevate your potential and join Nichols College in cultivating a new generation of sharp-minded leaders, ready to make a positive impact on the world. Enroll in the Advanced Critical Thinking and Decision Making certificate program today and unlock a brighter future for yourself and your community.

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What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas.  Critical thinking has been the subject of much debate and thought since the time of early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates and has continued to be a subject of discussion into the modern age, for example the ability to recognise fake news .

Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.

In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.

Critical thinkers will identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.

Someone with critical thinking skills can:

Understand the links between ideas.

Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.

Recognise, build and appraise arguments.

Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.

Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.

Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion.

Critical Thinking is:

A way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever, such as the nine times table you learn and use in school.

The Skills We Need for Critical Thinking

The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.

Specifically we need to be able to:

Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.

Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.

Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.

Recognise any weaknesses or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.

Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.

Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

The Critical Thinking Process

You should be aware that none of us think critically all the time.

Sometimes we think in almost any way but critically, for example when our self-control is affected by anger, grief or joy or when we are feeling just plain ‘bloody minded’.

On the other hand, the good news is that, since our critical thinking ability varies according to our current mindset, most of the time we can learn to improve our critical thinking ability by developing certain routine activities and applying them to all problems that present themselves.

Once you understand the theory of critical thinking, improving your critical thinking skills takes persistence and practice.

Try this simple exercise to help you to start thinking critically.

Think of something that someone has recently told you. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Who said it?

Someone you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Does it matter who told you this?

What did they say?

Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?

Where did they say it?

Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond an provide an alternative account?

When did they say it?

Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?

Why did they say it?

Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?

How did they say it?

Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?

What are you Aiming to Achieve?

One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve and then make a decision based on a range of possibilities.

Once you have clarified that aim for yourself you should use it as the starting point in all future situations requiring thought and, possibly, further decision making. Where needed, make your workmates, family or those around you aware of your intention to pursue this goal. You must then discipline yourself to keep on track until changing circumstances mean you have to revisit the start of the decision making process.

However, there are things that get in the way of simple decision making. We all carry with us a range of likes and dislikes, learnt behaviours and personal preferences developed throughout our lives; they are the hallmarks of being human. A major contribution to ensuring we think critically is to be aware of these personal characteristics, preferences and biases and make allowance for them when considering possible next steps, whether they are at the pre-action consideration stage or as part of a rethink caused by unexpected or unforeseen impediments to continued progress.

The more clearly we are aware of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the more likely our critical thinking will be productive.

The Benefit of Foresight

Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight.

Almost all decisions we make and implement don’t prove disastrous if we find reasons to abandon them. However, our decision making will be infinitely better and more likely to lead to success if, when we reach a tentative conclusion, we pause and consider the impact on the people and activities around us.

The elements needing consideration are generally numerous and varied. In many cases, consideration of one element from a different perspective will reveal potential dangers in pursuing our decision.

For instance, moving a business activity to a new location may improve potential output considerably but it may also lead to the loss of skilled workers if the distance moved is too great. Which of these is the more important consideration? Is there some way of lessening the conflict?

These are the sort of problems that may arise from incomplete critical thinking, a demonstration perhaps of the critical importance of good critical thinking.

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In Summary:

Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. In order to achieve this it must involve gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources possible.

Critical thinking requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of your personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences and their possible impact on decisions you may make.

Critical thinking requires the development and use of foresight as far as this is possible. As Doris Day sang, “the future’s not ours to see”.

Implementing the decisions made arising from critical thinking must take into account an assessment of possible outcomes and ways of avoiding potentially negative outcomes, or at least lessening their impact.

  • Critical thinking involves reviewing the results of the application of decisions made and implementing change where possible.

It might be thought that we are overextending our demands on critical thinking in expecting that it can help to construct focused meaning rather than examining the information given and the knowledge we have acquired to see if we can, if necessary, construct a meaning that will be acceptable and useful.

After all, almost no information we have available to us, either externally or internally, carries any guarantee of its life or appropriateness.  Neat step-by-step instructions may provide some sort of trellis on which our basic understanding of critical thinking can blossom but it doesn’t and cannot provide any assurance of certainty, utility or longevity.

Continue to: Critical Thinking and Fake News Critical Reading

See also: Analytical Skills Understanding and Addressing Conspiracy Theories Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

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Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions. These skills are especially helpful at school and in the workplace, where employers prioritize the ability to think critically. Find out why and see how you can demonstrate that you have this ability.

Examples of Critical Thinking

The circumstances that demand critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:

  • A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job.
  • An attorney reviews the evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.

Why Do Employers Value Critical Thinking Skills?

Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and offer the best solution.

Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions independently, and will not need constant handholding.

Hiring a critical thinker means that micromanaging won't be required. Critical thinking abilities are among the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and workplace. You can demonstrate critical thinking by using related keywords in your resume and cover letter and during your interview.

How to Demonstrate Critical Thinking in a Job Search

If critical thinking is a key phrase in the job listings you are applying for, be sure to emphasize your critical thinking skills throughout your job search.

Add Keywords to Your Resume

You can use critical thinking keywords (analytical, problem solving, creativity, etc.) in your resume. When describing your work history, include top critical thinking skills that accurately describe you. You can also include them in your resume summary, if you have one.

For example, your summary might read, “Marketing Associate with five years of experience in project management. Skilled in conducting thorough market research and competitor analysis to assess market trends and client needs, and to develop appropriate acquisition tactics.”

Mention Skills in Your Cover Letter

Include these critical thinking skills in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, mention one or two of these skills, and give specific examples of times when you have demonstrated them at work. Think about times when you had to analyze or evaluate materials to solve a problem.

Show the Interviewer Your Skills

You can use these skill words in an interview. Discuss a time when you were faced with a particular problem or challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking to solve it.

Some interviewers will give you a hypothetical scenario or problem, and ask you to use critical thinking skills to solve it. In this case, explain your thought process thoroughly to the interviewer. He or she is typically more focused on how you arrive at your solution rather than the solution itself. The interviewer wants to see you analyze and evaluate (key parts of critical thinking) the given scenario or problem.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Top Critical Thinking Skills

Keep these in-demand skills in mind as you refine your critical thinking practice —whether for work or school.

Part of critical thinking is the ability to carefully examine something, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. People with analytical skills can examine information, understand what it means, and properly explain to others the implications of that information.

  • Asking Thoughtful Questions
  • Data Analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Questioning Evidence
  • Recognizing Patterns

Communication

Often, you will need to share your conclusions with your employers or with a group of classmates or colleagues. You need to be able to communicate with others to share your ideas effectively. You might also need to engage in critical thinking in a group. In this case, you will need to work with others and communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems.

  • Active Listening
  • Collaboration
  • Explanation
  • Interpersonal
  • Presentation
  • Verbal Communication
  • Written Communication

Critical thinking often involves creativity and innovation. You might need to spot patterns in the information you are looking at or come up with a solution that no one else has thought of before. All of this involves a creative eye that can take a different approach from all other approaches.

  • Flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Imagination
  • Drawing Connections
  • Synthesizing

Open-Mindedness

To think critically, you need to be able to put aside any assumptions or judgments and merely analyze the information you receive. You need to be objective, evaluating ideas without bias.

  • Objectivity
  • Observation

Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is another critical thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, generating and implementing a solution, and assessing the success of the plan. Employers don’t simply want employees who can think about information critically. They also need to be able to come up with practical solutions.

  • Attention to Detail
  • Clarification
  • Decision Making
  • Groundedness
  • Identifying Patterns

More Critical Thinking Skills

  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Noticing Outliers
  • Adaptability
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Brainstorming
  • Optimization
  • Restructuring
  • Integration
  • Strategic Planning
  • Project Management
  • Ongoing Improvement
  • Causal Relationships
  • Case Analysis
  • Diagnostics
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Business Intelligence
  • Quantitative Data Management
  • Qualitative Data Management
  • Risk Management
  • Scientific Method
  • Consumer Behavior

Key Takeaways

  • Demonstrate you have critical thinking skills by adding relevant keywords to your resume.
  • Mention pertinent critical thinking skills in your cover letter, too, and include an example of a time when you demonstrated them at work.
  • Finally, highlight critical thinking skills during your interview. For instance, you might discuss a time when you were faced with a challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking skills to solve it.

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critical thinking , in educational theory, mode of cognition using deliberative reasoning and impartial scrutiny of information to arrive at a possible solution to a problem. From the perspective of educators, critical thinking encompasses both a set of logical skills that can be taught and a disposition toward reflective open inquiry that can be cultivated . The term critical thinking was coined by American philosopher and educator John Dewey in the book How We Think (1910) and was adopted by the progressive education movement as a core instructional goal that offered a dynamic modern alternative to traditional educational methods such as rote memorization.

Critical thinking is characterized by a broad set of related skills usually including the abilities to

Socrates

  • break down a problem into its constituent parts to reveal its underlying logic and assumptions
  • recognize and account for one’s own biases in judgment and experience
  • collect and assess relevant evidence from either personal observations and experimentation or by gathering external information
  • adjust and reevaluate one’s own thinking in response to what one has learned
  • form a reasoned assessment in order to propose a solution to a problem or a more accurate understanding of the topic at hand

Theorists have noted that such skills are only valuable insofar as a person is inclined to use them. Consequently, they emphasize that certain habits of mind are necessary components of critical thinking. This disposition may include curiosity, open-mindedness, self-awareness, empathy , and persistence.

Although there is a generally accepted set of qualities that are associated with critical thinking, scholarly writing about the term has highlighted disagreements over its exact definition and whether and how it differs from related concepts such as problem solving . In addition, some theorists have insisted that critical thinking be regarded and valued as a process and not as a goal-oriented skill set to be used to solve problems. Critical-thinking theory has also been accused of reflecting patriarchal assumptions about knowledge and ways of knowing that are inherently biased against women.

Dewey, who also used the term reflective thinking , connected critical thinking to a tradition of rational inquiry associated with modern science. From the turn of the 20th century, he and others working in the overlapping fields of psychology , philosophy , and educational theory sought to rigorously apply the scientific method to understand and define the process of thinking. They conceived critical thinking to be related to the scientific method but more open, flexible, and self-correcting; instead of a recipe or a series of steps, critical thinking would be a wider set of skills, patterns, and strategies that allow someone to reason through an intellectual topic, constantly reassessing assumptions and potential explanations in order to arrive at a sound judgment and understanding.

In the progressive education movement in the United States , critical thinking was seen as a crucial component of raising citizens in a democratic society. Instead of imparting a particular series of lessons or teaching only canonical subject matter, theorists thought that teachers should train students in how to think. As critical thinkers, such students would be equipped to be productive and engaged citizens who could cooperate and rationally overcome differences inherent in a pluralistic society.

Beginning in the 1970s and ’80s, critical thinking as a key outcome of school and university curriculum leapt to the forefront of U.S. education policy. In an atmosphere of renewed Cold War competition and amid reports of declining U.S. test scores, there were growing fears that the quality of education in the United States was falling and that students were unprepared. In response, a concerted effort was made to systematically define curriculum goals and implement standardized testing regimens , and critical-thinking skills were frequently included as a crucially important outcome of a successful education. A notable event in this movement was the release of the 1980 report of the Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities that called for the U.S. Department of Education to include critical thinking on its list of “basic skills.” Three years later the California State University system implemented a policy that required every undergraduate student to complete a course in critical thinking.

Critical thinking continued to be put forward as a central goal of education in the early 21st century. Its ubiquity in the language of education policy and in such guidelines as the Common Core State Standards in the United States generated some criticism that the concept itself was both overused and ill-defined. In addition, an argument was made by teachers, theorists, and others that educators were not being adequately trained to teach critical thinking.

Why Critical Thinking Is Important (& How to Improve It)

Last updated May 1, 2023. Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC . Written by Deane Alban .

By improving the quality of your thoughts and your decisions, better critical thinking skills can bring about a big positive change in your life. Learn how.

The quality of your life largely depends on the quality of the decisions you make.

Amazingly, the average person makes roughly 35,000 conscious decisions every day! 

Imagine how much better your life would be if there were a way to make better decisions, day in and day out?

Well, there is and you do it by boosting a skill called critical thinking .

Learning to master critical thinking can have a profoundly positive impact on nearly every aspect of your life.

What Exactly Is Critical Thinking?

The first documented account of critical thinking is the teachings of Socrates as recorded by Plato. 

Over time, the definition of critical thinking has evolved.

Most definitions of critical thinking are fairly complex and best understood by philosophy majors or psychologists.

For example, the Foundation for Critical Thinking , a nonprofit think tank, offers this definition:

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

If that makes your head spin, here are some definitions that you may relate to more easily.

Critical thinking is “reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.”

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Or, a catchy way of defining critical thinking is “deciding what’s true and what you should do.”

But my favorite uber-simple definition is that critical thinking is simply “thinking about thinking.”

6 Major Benefits of Good Critical Thinking Skills

Whether or not you think critically can make the difference between success and failure in just about every area of your life.

Our human brains are imperfect and prone to irrationality, distortions, prejudices, and cognitive biases .

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of irrational thinking.

While the number of cognitive biases varies depending on the source, Wikipedia, for example, lists nearly 200 of them ! 

Some of the most well-known cognitive biases include:

  • catastrophic thinking
  • confirmation bias
  • fear of missing out (FOMO)

Critical thinking will help you move past the limitations of irrational thinking.

Here are some of the most important ways critical thinking can impact your life.

1. Critical Thinking Is a Key to Career Success

There are many professions where critical thinking is an absolute must.

Lawyers, analysts, accountants, doctors, engineers, reporters, and scientists of all kinds must apply critical thinking frequently.

But critical thinking is a skill set that is becoming increasingly valuable in a growing number of professions.

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Critical thinking can help you in any profession where you must:

  • analyze information
  • systematically solve problems
  • generate innovative solutions
  • plan strategically
  • think creatively
  • present your work or ideas to others in a way that can be readily understood

And, as we enter the fourth industrial revolution , critical thinking has become one of the most sought-after skills.

chart showing the increase in demand for enterprise skills

According to the World Economic Forum , critical thinking and complex problem-solving are the two top in-demand skills that employers look for. 

Critical thinking is considered a soft or enterprise skill — a core attribute required to succeed in the workplace . 

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According to The University of Arizona, other soft skills include : 

  • interpersonal skills
  • communication skills
  • digital literacy

Critical thinking can help you develop the rest of these soft skills.

Developing your critical thinking can help you land a job since many employers will ask you interview questions or even give you a test to determine how well you can think critically.

It can also help you continually succeed in your career, since being a critical thinker is a powerful predictor of long-term success.

2. Critical Thinkers Make Better Decisions

Every day you make thousands of decisions.

Most of them are made by your subconscious , are not very important, and don’t require much thought, such as what to wear or what to have for lunch. 

But the most important decisions you make can be hard and require a lot of thought, such as when or if you should change jobs, relocate to a new city, buy a house, get married, or have kids.

At work, you may have to make decisions that can alter the course of your career or the lives of others.

Critical thinking helps you cope with everyday problems as they arise.

It promotes independent thinking and strengthens your inner “BS detector.”

It helps you make sense of the glut of data and information available, making you a smarter consumer who is less likely to fall for advertising hype, peer pressure, or scams.

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3. Critical Thinking Can Make You Happier

Knowing and understanding yourself is an underappreciated path to happiness. 

We’ve already shown how your quality of life largely depends on the quality of your decisions, but equally as important is the quality of your thoughts.

Critical thinking is an excellent tool to help you better understand yourself and to learn to master your thoughts.

You can use critical thinking to free yourself from cognitive biases, negative thinking , and limiting beliefs that are holding you back in any area of your life.

Critical thinking can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses so that you know what you have to offer others and where you could use improvement.

Critical thinking will enable you to better express your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

Better communication helps others to understand you better, resulting in less frustration for both of you.

Critical thinking fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that can be applied to any area of your life.

It gives you a process you can rely on, making decisions less stressful.

4. Critical Thinking Ensures That Your Opinions Are Well-Informed

We have access to more information than ever before .

Astoundingly, more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of mankind. 

Critical thinking can help you sort through the noise.

American politician, sociologist, and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked , “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” 

Critical thinking ensures your opinions are well-informed and based on the best available facts.

You’ll get a boost in confidence when you see that those around you trust your well-considered opinions.

5. Critical Thinking Improves Relationships

You might be concerned that critical thinking will turn you into a Spock-like character who is not very good at relationships.

But, in fact, the opposite is true.

Employing critical thinking makes you more open-minded and better able to understand others’ points of view.

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Critical thinkers are more empathetic and in a better position to get along with different kinds of people.

Critical thinking keeps you from jumping to conclusions.

You can be counted on to be the voice of reason when arguments get heated.

You’ll be better able to detect when others:

  • are being disingenuous
  • don’t have your best interests at heart
  • try to take advantage of or manipulate you

6. Critical Thinking Makes You a Better, More Informed Citizen

“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

This quote has been incorrectly attributed to Thomas Jefferson , but regardless of the source, these words of wisdom are more relevant than ever. 

Critical thinkers are able to see both sides of any issue and are more likely to generate bipartisan solutions.

They are less likely to be swayed by propaganda or get swept up in mass hysteria.

They are in a better position to spot fake news when they see it.

5 Steps to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Some people already have well-developed critical thinking skills.

These people are analytical, inquisitive, and open to new ideas.

And, even though they are confident in their own opinions, they seek the truth, even if it proves their existing ideas to be wrong.

They are able to connect the dots between ideas and detect inconsistencies in others’ thinking.

But regardless of the state of your critical thinking skills today, it’s a skill set you can develop.

While there are many techniques for thinking rationally, here’s a classic 5-step critical thinking process . 

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How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Clearly define your question or problem.

This step is so important that Albert Einstein famously quipped:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Gather Information to Help You Weigh the Options

Consider only the most useful and reliable information from the most reputable sources.

Disregard the rest.

Apply the Information and Ask Critical Questions

Scrutinize all information carefully with a skeptic’s eye.

Not sure what questions to ask?

You can’t go wrong starting with the “5 Ws” that any good investigator asks: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Then finish by asking “How?”

You’ll find more thought-provoking questions on this Critical Thinking Skills Cheatsheet .

Consider the Implications

Look for potential unintended consequences.

Do a thought experiment about how your solution could play out in both the short term and the long run.

Explore the Full Spectrum of Viewpoints

Examine why others are drawn to differing points of view.

This will help you objectively evaluate your own viewpoint.

You may find critical thinkers who take an opposing view and this can help you find gaps in your own logic.

Watch the Video

This TED-Ed video on YouTube elaborates on the five steps to improve your critical thinking.

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  • Improve your mental clarity and focus.
  • Boost your memory and your ability to learn.
  • Increase your capacity to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.

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What is critical thinking?

5 characteristics of critical thinking, what are critical thinking skills, and why are they important, 6 key critical thinking skills, critical thinking example in real-life, 13 ways to start thinking critically.

Whether you’re aiming to improve your performance at work or simply trying to live a more fulfilling life , you’ll need a variety of hard and soft skills to move the needle. Some skills come naturally to some people, while others need to develop them actively.

One of these skills is critical thinking. But critical thinking itself is made up of several types of skills that contribute to solving problems more effectively.

Let’s explore the different types of critical thinking skills and how you can start improving them to level up your career.

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze facts objectively and form a judgment. It is a form of emotional intelligence .

Someone with critical thinking skills can think clearly and rationally when the situation demands it. It allows them to perform problem-solving and decision-making more effectively. 

As a result, you can look further than what you see at face value. You’re able to analyze what you see from a situation and gain some insight that goes further than what’s obvious to anyone from the outside.

Critical thinking also requires being able to understand the logical connection between two or more ideas or concepts. For example, a team working on a company’s pricing strategy needs to think critically about several concepts. 

Both the marketing and sales teams must work together. They need to analyze how to maximize sales. But they need to do so while also meeting profit goals. It’s important to understand the logical connection between sales strategy and marketing logistics. It’s the only way to get a good outcome.

Critical thinking is different from creative thinking . Creative thinking is the ability to generate brand new, innovative ideas. On the other hand, critical thinking requires you to carefully and logically analyze what information is given to you. Both are important to maximize results in any given situation.

woman-sitting-and-thinking-critical-thinking-skills

What defines critical thinking? How does it affect the decision-making process? Here are five characteristics that make up the ability to think critically.

1. Dispositions

Critical thinkers have specific traits that allow them to think the way they do. Some people are predisposed to these traits, while others need to develop them actively.

Some of these dispositions include:

  • Open-mindedness
  • Respecting evidence and reasoning
  • Being able to consider different perspectives and points of view: in other words, having cognitive flexibility
  • Not being stuck in one position
  • Clarity and precision

2. Argument

Good critical thinkers need to make solid arguments. 

An argument is making a statement aided by supporting evidence. It’s important to use well thought-out arguments when you’re in a constructive conflict . When analyzing a situation critically, you’ll need to make several arguments in your own mind to come to a judgment. 

3. Reasoning

In addition to arguments, critical thinking also requires inferring conclusions. From the facts and arguments presented to you, you need to use reasoning skills to come to a logical conclusion. 

This conclusion will determine the best course of action to take.

woman-thinking-at-computer-critical-thinking-skills

4. Criteria

Critical thinking is sometimes a matter of discerning truth from fiction. Not all facts presented to you may have the same level of truth. Certain conditions need to be met for something to be considered believable, and a critical thinker needs to be able to understand that.

5. Metacognition

Metacognition is the ability to think about your own thinking. Critical thinkers should be able to analyze their thoughts so that they can judge whether or not they’ve thought everything through. This helps them come up with better hypotheses.

The critical thinking skills definition is: soft skills that help you in the critical thinking process. Developing these skills can improve your ability to think critically.

Critical thinking skills are considered one of many durable skills in the workplace . Many of these are soft skills that are also useful in other situations.

According to research by America Succeeds, critical thinking is in the top five most requested durable skills in job postings. Those top five durable skills get requested 2.6x more often than the top five hard skills. This goes to show that soft skills like critical thinking skills are in demand in the workplace.

Critical thinking skills are important for several reasons. These include helping you work independently and solve problems . Not all positions require ongoing critical thinking. But, those skills definitely matter to anyone who wants to uplevel their career. And even the most easygoing positions require at least some level of critical thinking skills.

For example, working as an accountant can be straightforward in most cases. But it may require critical thinking skills. For instance, what if certain expenses aren’t easily distributed in simple categories? Without critical thinking skills, an accountant will struggle to work independently and solve problems on their own.

Critical thinking abilities also matter in everyday life. Having a foundation for critical thinking can help you analyze several possible solutions for problems that pop up in the home. It can also help you:

  • Analyze different viewpoints
  • Come up with the best solution for complex problems
  • Become a better learner

The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance.

Let’s explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they’re so important to the critical thinking process.

1. Identifying biases

This critical thinking skill is necessary for metacognition, which is the fifth characteristic of critical thinking. It involves knowing when others have a cognitive bias and when you have one yourself.

Biases can influence how someone understands the facts presented to them. But when you’re aware of those biases, you can question yourself on those biases and consider other points of view.

Identifying biases is especially important for people who make hiring decisions. That’s because biases against groups of minorities can lead to inequalities in the workplace when not identified. 

For example, imagine a hiring manager comparing two resumes. Their gut feeling could guide them to discount one of the resumes due to a bias against the opposite gender. But let’s say this hiring manager realizes they have this bias. They can then question themselves on whether or not this bias is influencing their judgment. 

2. Inference

Inference is the ability to draw conclusions based on the information you have. Without inference, it can be difficult to take action once you’ve analyzed the facts presented to you. Processing information is key to coming up with a reasoned judgment.

For example, let’s go back to the accountant struggling to assign the correct category to a business expense. They can analyze other similar situations and infer the most logical category based on that information.

3. Research

Before you analyze facts and infer a conclusion, you need to find out what those facts are. Researching skills allow you to discover facts and figures to make an argument.

Not all situations will have the required information available to you. Researching skills are necessary to dig into a situation and gather the information you need to think critically.

Some situations don’t require further research. For example, a first responder who arrives on the scene of an automobile accident won’t perform further research. They’ll have to analyze what they see in front of them and decide which injuries are the most urgent to care for. 

On the other hand, someone performing a market analysis will need to research competitors and gather information before coming up with an opinion. 

4. Identification

Identification is different from inference and research. It involves being able to identify a problem but also what’s influencing that problem.

In short, identification is necessary for someone to realize that they need to think critically about something. Without proper identification skills, it will be difficult for someone to know when it’s time to analyze a situation. 

For example, let’s say you’re entering numbers in a spreadsheet. The numbers aren’t coming out as they usually do. Without identification skills, you could easily keep going without realizing there’s an issue. But when you identify what’s going on, you can see that something is broken in the spreadsheet’s formula.

Only once you identify the fact that the formula is broken can you start analyzing what’s going on to solve the issue.

5. Curiosity

Don’t be afraid to question everything and explore what you’re curious about. That’s because intellectual curiosity is a valuable skill, especially when it comes to critical thinking.

One way to practice curiosity is to adopt a beginner’s mindset . When you come into every situation with the mindset of a beginner, you’re able to keep an open mind. You’ll be able to perceive things you may not have noticed when keeping your mind closed.

6. Judging relevance

Not all information is equally pertinent. In order to make a critical judgment, it’s important to be able to judge the relevance of the information you have.

Take, for instance, basic online researching skills. You have access to a plethora of information on virtually every topic imaginable. But performing online research requires you to constantly judge the relevance of what you see. 

Without judging relevance, you’d spend too much time on details that don’t matter as much for the final desired outcome. But when you’re able to discern what’s most pertinent, you can give that information more weight as you’re thinking critically.

middle-aged-woman-at-computer-critical-thinking-skills

So what would critical thinking skills look like in a real-life situation?

Let’s imagine you’re working in software quality assurance (QA) as a team lead. But every time your team needs to enter bug regression, everyone gets bottlenecked because you must manually populate the spreadsheet used for the regression. While you do this task, your team cannot be productive without you.

This process happens once a week and easily wastes half an hour for each team member.

First, you must identify what’s going on. The team gets bottlenecked because only you, as the team lead, can access the information required to fill in the regression spreadsheet.

Next, you can research information. You can inquire to higher-ups about the reason why only you have access to this information. You can also speak to other teams about what potential solutions they’ve come up with to solve this problem.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to analyze the information and judge relevance. Some teams have solutions that don’t apply to you, so that information isn’t relevant anymore. 

Figure out if there are any personal biases before you analyze your information. 

For example, it’s possible that you don’t get along with one of the other team leads. As a result, you could discount the information they’ve given you. But by identifying this bias, you can look past your personal opinion of this person and see how valuable their solution is.

Based on what you’ve analyzed, it’s time to brainstorm and come up with a solution. You realize that creating a simple, automated script will save your team’s time. And it will do so without consuming too many resources from the engineering department.

Next, present your solution to your manager. Explain how you came to this conclusion. 

Now, let’s say your spreadsheet automation solution is approved. It’s important to go back and analyze what happens after implementing the solution. But only do this once the spreadsheet has been in place for long enough to gather plenty of information. 

Here’s an example. You could realize that the solution did solve the bottleneck. But, the script also slows down the spreadsheet and makes it difficult to work with. This would require you to go back to the drawing board and start the process all over again.

Want to start improving your own critical thinking skill sets? Here’s how you can improve critical thinking skills using 13 techniques:

  • Play games that require critical thinking skills
  • Ask more questions, even basic ones
  • Question your assumptions
  • Develop your technical skills so that you can identify problems more easily
  • Find ways to solve more problems (at work and at home)
  • Become aware of your mental processes, like the availability heuristic
  • Think for yourself: don’t adopt other people’s opinions without questioning them first
  • Seek out diversity of thought
  • Start developing foresight
  • Try active listening
  • Weigh the consequences of different actions before you act
  • Seek a mentor who can help you develop these skills
  • Get professional coaching

young-woman-using-phone-and-laptop-critical-thinking-skills

How to improve your critical thinking skills 

Critical thinking skills aren’t always easy to develop. But it’s much easier to start thinking critically when you have someone to work with. Try a custom BetterUp demo to see how a coach can help you develop your critical thinking skills today.

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Maggie Wooll, MBA

Maggie Wooll is a researcher, author, and speaker focused on the evolving future of work. Formerly the lead researcher at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Princeton University and an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Maggie is passionate about creating better work and greater opportunities for all.

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Each year it sponsors an annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform. It has worked with the College Board, the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as numerous colleges, universities, and school districts to facilitate the implementation of critical thinking instruction focused on intellectual standards. The following studies demonstrate:

  • the fact that, as a rule, critical thinking is not presently being effectively taught at the high school, college and university level, and yet
  • it is possible to do so.

To assess students' understanding of critical thinking, we recommend use of the International Critical Thinking Test as well as the Critical Thinking Interview Profile for College Students . To assess faculty understanding of critical thinking and its importance to instruction, we recommend the Critical Thinking Interview Profile For Teachers and Faculty . By registering as a member of the community, you will have access to streaming video, which includes a sample student interview with Dr. Richard Paul and Rush Cosgrove. 

Principal Researchers: Dr. Richard Paul, Dr. Linda Elder, and Dr. Ted Bartell

Executive Summary

(Complete Study is available for purchase.)  On September 29, 1994 Governor Wilson signed legislation authored by Senator Leroy Greene (SB1849) directing the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to conduct a study of teacher preparation programs to assess the extent to which these programs prepare candidates for teaching credentials to teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills in elementary and secondary schools. During the spring of 1995, Commission staff began to conceptualize a study design that would yield descriptive information on course content and teaching practices being employed by postsecondary faculty to train teacher candidates. With assistance from the Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University, an interview protocol was designed for use in telephone interviews with a cross-section of education and subject matter faculty in both public and private colleges and universities in California. During the study planning process, a decision was made to design respondent selection procedures in such a way as to assure that information collected would be generalizable to all faculty preparing teachers across the state. To accomplish this objective, two statewide probability samples were designed: a sample of teacher education faculty, and a separate sample of Arts and Sciences faculty teaching courses in Commission-approved subject matter programs. There were three major objectives in this study. The first was to assess current teaching practices and knowledge of critical thinking among faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs in California. The second was to identify exemplary teaching practices that enhance critical thinking. The third was to develop policy recommendations based on the results of the study. The study included 38 public colleges and universities and 28 private ones.

The Concept of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Used in the Study

The concept of critical thinking and problem solving used in this study is "minimalist," that is, one which captures the essential dimensions of the concept reflected in the following: its etymology and dictionary definition, major definitions and explanations in the literature, a brief history of the idea, major tests of critical thinking, and the basic values it presupposes. This minimalist concept of critical thinking is embedded not only in a core body of research over the last 30 to 50 years but is also derived from roots in ancient Greek. The word ’’critical’’ derives etymologically from two Greek roots: "kriticos" (meaning discerning judgment) and "kriterion" (meaning standards). Etymologically, then, the word implies the development of "discerning judgment based on standards." In Webster's New World Dictionary, the relevant entry reads "characterized by careful analysis and judgment" and is followed by the gloss: "critical, in its strictest sense, implies an attempt at objective judgment so as to determine both merits and faults." Applied to thinking, then, we might provisionally define critical thinking as thinking that explicitly aims at well-founded judgment and hence utilizes appropriate evaluative standards in the attempt to determine the true worth, merit, or value of something. The tradition of research into critical thinking reflects the common perception that human thinking left to itself often gravitates toward prejudice, over-generalization, common fallacies, self-deception, rigidity, and narrowness. The critical thinking tradition seeks ways of understanding the mind and then training the intellect so that such "errors", "blunders", and "distortions" of thought are minimized. It assumes that the capacity of humans for good reasoning can be nurtured and developed by an educational process aimed directly at that end. It assumes that sound critical thinking maximizes our ability to solve problems of importance to us by helping us both to avoid common mistakes and to proceed in the most rational and logical fashion. For example, those who think critically typically engage in intellectual practices of the following sort, monitoring, reviewing, and assessing: goals and purposes; the way issues and problems are formulated; the information, data, or evidence presented for acceptance, interpretations of such information, data, or evidence; the quality of reasoning presented or developed, basic concepts or ideas inherent in thinking, assumptions made, implications and consequences that may or may not follow; points of view and frames of reference. In monitoring, reviewing and assessing these intellectual constructs, those who think critically characteristically strive, for such intellectual ends as clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. Each of these modes of thinking help us to accomplish the ends for which we are thinking and hence to solve the problems inherent in pursuing those ends.

Current Teaching Practices and Knowledge of Critical Thinking

In-depth interviews were utilized to provide information on how faculty tend to think about critical thinking and the manner in which that thinking influences the design of their classes. Questions were designed to shed light on the extent to which students in teacher preparation programs in California are being taught in ways that facilitate skill in critical thinking and the ability to teach it to others. There were three goals of this component of the study. The first was to ensure that any faculty who had a developed notion of critical thinking (of any kind) would have a full opportunity and much encouragement to spell out that notion. We wanted to make sure that everyone interviewed was encouraged to express their actual views and to express them in detail. The second goal was to examine the views expressed to see: a) how many faculty actually had a developed view and b) how much internal coherence there was in any given faculty view. In other words, we sought to determine how many faculty had seriously thought through the concept of critical thinking--irrespective of how they defined it, and then, once we had a full expression of any given person's views, we examined what was said, not only for clarity but also for coherence. The third goal was to determine the extent to which the views expressed demonstrated an internalization of traditional "minimalist" elements of critical thinking. We sought to determine, in other words, how much of the common core of meaning now attached to the traditional concept by those working in the field of critical thinking research (and reflected in its semantics and history) has been internalized by faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs. Data collection included both closed-ended and open-ended questions. In addition, the coders of responses made judgments about some important global features of the responses made (using minimalist components of critical thinking as criteria). The open-ended questions, and the follow-up questions, were designed, as indicated above, to provide maximum opportunity for individuals to articulate virtually any concept of critical thinking that they favored. The follow-up questions’’ main function was that of ensuring that the most specific and precise views that could be obtained were obtained. Since the interviews lasted 45 minutes on average, the interviewees had ample opportunity to express their views. The same interview protocol was utilized for both education faculty and subject matter faculty. A total of 140 interviews were completed, representing a 78% response rate among those contacted for an interview. Since the samples were constructed so as to be representative in a statistical sense of all faculty involved in teacher preparation in California, the results can in fact be generalized to teacher preparation faculty in the state as a whole. The results of the analysis were as follows: 1) Though the overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is. Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class. 2) Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were. 3) While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no allusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind. 4) When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste. 5) Although the majority (67%) said that their concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in their thinking, only 19% could elaborate on their concept of thinking. 6) Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, 77% of the respondents had little, limited or no conception of how to reconcile content coverage with the fostering of critical thinking. 7) Although the overwhelming majority (81%) felt that their department’s graduates develop a good or high level of critical thinking ability while in their program, only 20% said that their departments had a shared approach to critical thinking, and only 9% were able to clearly articulate how they would assess the extent to which a faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking. The remaining respondents had a limited conception or no conception at all of how to do this. 8) Although the vast majority (89%) stated that critical thinking was of primary importance to their instruction, only `a very small minority could clearly explain the meanings of basic terms in critical thinking. For example, only 8% could clearly differentiate between an assumption and an inference, and only 4% could differentiate between an inference and an implication. 9) Only a very small minority (9%) mentioned the special and/or growing need for critical thinking today in virtue of the pace of change and the complexities inherent in human life. Not a single respondent elaborated on the issue. 10) In explaining their views of critical thinking, the overwhelming majority (69%) made either no allusion at all, or a minimal allusion, to the need for greater emphasis on peer and student self-assessment in instruction. 11) From either the quantitative data directly, or from minimal inference from those data, it is clear that a significant percentage of faculty interviewed (and, if representative, most faculty):

  • do not understand the connection of critical thinking to intellectual standards.
  • are not able to clarify major intellectual criteria and standards.
  • inadvertently confuse the active involvement of students in classroom activities with critical thinking in those activities. 
  • are unable to give an elaborated articulation of their concept of critical thinking. 
  • cannot provide plausible examples of how they foster critical thinking in the classroom.
  • are not able to name specific critical thinking skills they think are important for students to learn.
  • are not able to plausibly explain how to reconcile covering content with fostering critical thinking.
  • do not consider reasoning as a significant focus of critical thinking.
  • do not think of reasoning within disciplines as a major focus of instruction.
  • cannot specify basic structures essential to the analysis of reasoning.
  • cannot give an intelligible explanation of basic abilities either in critical thinking or in reasoning .
  • do not distinguish the psychological dimension of thought from the intellectual dimension.
  • have had no involvement in research into critical thinking and have not attended any conferences on the subject.
  • are unable to name a particular theory or theorist that has shaped their concept of critical thinking.

Some Policy Recommendations

If it is essential for teachers to foster critical thinking, then it is essential for those who teach the teachers to have at least baseline knowledge of the concept of critical thinking. Those who teach prospective teachers must be sufficiently well-informed about critical thinking not only to be able to explain it in a general way to their students, they must also regularly model instruction for critical thinking in their own classroom procedures and policies. The design of their classes must reflect an explicit critical thinking orientation, so that students not only systematically think through the content of their courses, but also come to see how the design of a course can require and cultivate critical thinking and thoughtfulness — or fail to do so. On our view, four interventions are requisite for substantive change to occur. First, we must disseminate the information faculty need to change their perceptions. Second, we must provide for faculty skill-building through appropriate professional development. Third, we must establish a mandate to systematically teach critical thinking (and how to teach for it) in all programs of teacher education. And fourth, we must develop an exit examination in critical thinking for all prospective teachers. Let us look at each of these proposed interventions in turn. 1) Information Dissemination: Sufficient awareness, grounded in intellectual humility, must be generated in those communities of faculty teaching in teacher preparation programs leading to the recognition a) that there is a general lack of knowledge on the part of the teaching faculty of the baseline concept of critical thinking, and b) that most students in teacher preparation programs are now graduating without knowledge of critical thinking or how to teach for it. There are seven forms of information that need wide dissemination. At present none of these categories of information are widely disseminated in the teaching community. The categories are as follows:

  • We need to disseminate information that documents the problem at the k-12 teaching level. 
  • We need to disseminate information on teaching for critical thinking within particular disciplines (such as math). 
  • We need to disseminate information about the process that faculty go through as they initially develop their ability to bring critical thinking successfully into the classroom (especially regarding those who display intellectual humility). 
  • We need to disseminate information about exemplary teaching practices of individuals, as they reach high levels of success.

Qualitative Generalizations: Interpreting Responses to Open-Ended Questions

A close look at the open-ended responses obtained in the interviews provides a realistic sense of the empirical foundation for generalizations that go beyond purely quantitative data. Many of the samples from the interviews are vivid and deeply revealing. A full airing of these samples, with commentary, is contained in Appendix A. The data collected enabled us to present illustrative profiles of faculty who had a vague and or internally incoherent conception of critical thinking in contrast to those who had a developed notion of critical thinking (irrespective of their orientation toward it). If we assume that those who had a vague or internally contradictory concept of critical thinking simply haven't thought much on the subject, and those who had a clear, well-elaborated, and internally coherent concept had thought seriously about the subject, then we can infer that comparatively few faculty members have thought seriously about critical thinking. In other words, we were able to get a strong sense of how many faculty members had seriously thought through the concept of critical thinking--irrespective of how they defined it, and then, we were able to separate out those whose views were not only highly elaborated but coherent. From delving into the rich details of the open-ended responses, one finds not only confirmation of the quantitative data, but also powerful support for significant qualitative generalizations. What is more, a close look at individual cases reveals that there is significant contrast between those faculty members who have a developed concept of critical thinking and those who do not. The profiles of individual faculty that are summarized below illustrate clearly the kind of differences which existed between those who were articulate in explaining how they approach critical thinking and those who were not. It also confirmed what the quantitative data showed, namely, that many faculty members, without knowing it, are confused about the basic concepts and skills of critical thinking. Let us now look at some illustrative faculty profiles from the study Each profile represents one person from the study. Each profile is anonymous--in keeping with the commitment made to all of those who agreed to be interviewed.

Some Illustrative Profiles

The Basic Pattern What follows is a series of "profiles" which suggest some of the basic patterns of thinking found in particular faculty members who participated in the interviews. Most faculty answered open-ended questions with vague answers, rather than clear and precise answers. In many of their answers there were internal "tensions" and in some cases outright contradictions. The magic talisman were phrases like "constructivism", "Bloom's Taxonomy", "process-based", "inquiry-based", "beyond recall", "active learning", "meaning-centered" and such like — phrases that under probing questions the majority of interviewees were unable to intelligibly explain in terms of critical thinking. The most common confusion, perhaps, was confusion between what is necessary (for critical thinking) and what is sufficient (for it). For example, active engagement is necessary to critical thinking, but one can be actively engaged and NOT THINK CRITICALLY. To illustrate, many gang members are actively engaged in gang activities, but that does not make them critical thinkers. It is not THAT you are engaged but HOW you are engaged that matters. Virtually all of those interviewed identified critical thinking and the learning of intellectual standards as primary objectives in instruction, yet few could give a clear explanation of what their concept of either was. Virtually all said that students lacked intellectual standards when they entered their classes, yet implied, at the same time, that they left with those intellectual standards in place. They also overwhelmingly stated or implied that their students left them with a good level of critical thinking as well as a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. By direct statement or by implication, most claimed that they permeated their instruction with an emphasis on critical thinking and that the students internalized the concepts in their courses as a result. Yet only the rare interviewee mentioned the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, or logically, etc.  Very few mentioned any of the basic skills of thought, such as the ability to clarify questions, gather relevant data, reason to logical or valid conclusions, identify key assumptions, trace significant implications, or enter without distortion into alternative points of view. Intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, and so on, are virtually unheard of by the interviewees. After listening to the interviews it becomes obvious that irrespective of the diversity of language used, the central problem is that most faculty have not carefully thought through any concept of critical thinking, have no sense of intellectual standards they can put into words, and are, therefore, by any reasonable interpretation, in no position to foster critical thinking in their own students or to help them to foster it in their future students--except to inculcate into their students the same vague views that they have. Now let's look at some specific profiles.

Weak Profiles

Profile A (8) Professor A thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as intuitive and a product of his own thinking. He does not distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to him, his students come to class with well-developed intellectual standards and graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague in general and suggest that he hasn't in fact thought much about critical thinking. His explanation of critical thinking, for example, is vague and possibly self-contradictory: "Critical thinking means to think analytically and be aware that everyone thinks for himself. All thinking is critical to some extent. Anyone who thinks intelligently. Reflectiveness." When asked what critical thinking skills are most important for students to develop, he says, "I can't answer this. I can't identify skills." When asked how he would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, the vagueness of his thinking about critical thinking is again apparent when he says "You look at their publishing. And I'd hear from students. They'd be complaining. It takes time." When asked for his personal conception of intellectual standards, it is clear that he does not have one: "That’s a hard question to answer. I don't think I see an answer to it." In addition to his general lack of clear thinking about critical thinking, it is apparent that he is also confused about the basic concepts in critical thinking. When asked to explain the difference between an assumption and an inference, he says, "An inference is something based on information. An assumption is based on feeling and a lack of thinking." (Ignoring the fact that we can make empirically well-founded assumptions and infer something based on prejudices or stereotypes.)

Profile B (10) Professor B thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives. She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of her own thinking. She does not distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to her, students come to class with well-developed intellectual standards and graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. Her responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague in general and suggest that she hasn't clarified the difference between "constructing beliefs" and "constructing knowledge." She in general assumes that if students are actively engaged and "thinking for themselves", they are ipso facto thinking critically. Nowhere does she mention that students actively construct prejudice as well as knowledge, poor thinking as well as sound thinking. Nowhere does she mention the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, logically, etc... When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking, she says: "Critical thinking consists in the active construction of knowledge and valuing social justice, a continuing examining of things as they are and might be..." When asked what critical thinking skills are most important for students to develop, she says, "I don't think in terms of critical thinking skills. To think critically is to be a competent observer of events and to have a disposition to ask questions about them, to classify and find patterns...". (Note that a person can have the disposition to ask superficial or loaded questions and that all persons, poor reasoners as well as good reasoners, classify and find patterns--merely in virtue of being language users). When asked how she would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, she equates critical thinking with active learning, saying: "Critical thinking is built into an active learning model. How are we supporting students in becoming active, autonomous learners. Active participation, reflection, a personal experience and the ability to make connection between their own views and others. Lively dialogue." When asked for her personal conception of intellectual standards, she looks to find a way to equate intellectual standards with active processing, saying: "A process conception. There is no finite set of standards to achieve but the learner engages in active dialogue with self and others with increasingly insightful learning..." Profile C (14) Professor C thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as explicit and a product of one or more theories of critical thinking to which he explicitly subscribes. He claims to distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to him, his students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards, but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and good ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague in general and suggest that he assumes that critical thinking is an automatic by-product of the use of discipline-based procedures. It is evident, however, that he has not thought through what the differences are between, say, the "scientific method" and "Bloom's taxonomy." He nowhere discusses the standards and criteria implicit in sound scientific work. His explanation of critical thinking is: "Critical thinking is investigative inquiry, to observe, interpret, and predict." When asked what critical thinking skills are most important for students to develop, he says, "To analyze, predict, compare, observe... all of those listed by Bloom...all the science processes." When asked how he would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, he says "Ask them to compare a lecture approach with an investigative inquiry approach. Have them do a self-assessment after they did an inquiry unit." Though the above answer suggests that Professor C understands the importance of having students engage in self- and peer-assessment, it is also clear that he has not thought through the intellectual criteria or standards that students need to effectively do such self-assessment. To some extent, he appears to equate intellectual standards with intellectual autonomy (forgetting that I can think for myself and yet do a poor job of it). For example, when asked for his personal conception of intellectual standards, he says: "All thoughts should be tentative. Are we using the processes and holding thoughts tentatively. In all cases, we should let the students develop their own level of understanding." In addition to his vague thinking about critical thinking, it is apparent that he is also confused about the basic concepts in critical thinking. When asked to explain the difference between an assumption and an inference, and says, "Assumptions don't have data behind them. Inferences do." In saying this, he of course fails to remember that assumptions can be well or poorly grounded and inferences are sometimes based on stereotypes or imagined facts. Nowhere in the interview does Professor C mention any of the basic skills of thought such as clarifying the question; gathering relevant data, reasoning to logical or valid conclusions; identifying key assumptions; tracing significant implications, or entering without distortion into alternative points of view, neither does he mention important intellectual traits of mind, such as intellectual humility, intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, etc... Profile D (15) Professor D illustrates a person who seems torn between negating critical thinking and its importance while simultaneously claiming to permeate her teaching with it (as something vitally important). On the one hand, she says that critical thinking is of primary importance in her instructional objectives, but on the other hand, says that "it is not so much critical thinking (that students need) but information." On the one hand she says that critical thinking is explicit in her thinking and that it is a product of one or more theories of critical thinking to which she explicitly subscribes, but she goes on to say that "I never read critical thinking books." She says that critical thinking "is embedded in everything I do," but cannot articulate any critical thinking skills or standards that she emphasizes. Profile E Professor E (16) illustrates a person who seems torn between a view in which critical thinking is based on objective standards and skills, on the one hand, and a subjective view, on the other (in which whatever satisfies the individual as an autonomous thinker is the only ultimate basis for critical thought). This tension is suggested in Professor E's explanation of his concept of critical thinking: "Information must be processed. To analyze and synthesize a viewpoint that is your own is critical thinking. Values come into it. We should have the capacity to look at things objectively." When he delineates skills that are important for students to develop, he names values and process, but does not clearly state any skill as such: "(They need to learn) objectivity, (to) weigh through information, balance views, accept new information and process it" When Professor E explains his conception of intellectual standards we see again him oscillating between the objective and subjective. He says that "...accuracy and truth are both relative. ... What is the truth at that moment? (But) be available to find that one is not accurate and that the truth is not comfortable," At the same time Professor E is one of the rare individuals who ranks program graduates as low both in critical thinking abilities and in knowledge of how to teach for critical thinking. Profile F (19) Professor F thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives. She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of one or more theories to which she explicitly subscribes (though unable to cite any theory when asked). She says she does distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to her, students come to class without well-developed intellectual standards but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and in fostering critical thinking in their future students. Her responses to the open-ended questions, however, are peppered with a diversity of responses (and it is not quite clear whether they add up to a coherent notion or represent confusion of thought). Nowhere does she mention that students actively construct prejudice as well as knowledge, poor thinking as well as sound thinking. Nowhere does she mention the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, logically, etc... When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking, she says: "Everyone has a different view of critical thinking. I think of it as thinking skills. I think of words like analytical, evaluative, judgmental and I think of my field and activities I would do with my students. Logic and patterns. For example, classifying skills. Looking at a set of buttons--which one is different. I'm thinking of open-endedness, unifying ideas, and problem-solving." She provides a similar answer when asked for her personal conception of intellectual standards: "Open-endedness, trying something new, analyze situations and problem solve, making estimates to see if your answers are reasonable, consider the viewpoint, judge the data, check their work." She is unable to give a coherent explanation of the difference between an assumption and an inference or between an inference and an implication. Profile G (76) Professor G is a good example of one who equates critical thinking with thinking for oneself and, beyond that, applies no discernible intellectual standards. She says critical thinking is of primary importance in her instructional objectives, that her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of her own thinking. She does not distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. On the other hand, she says that knowledge, truth, and sound judgment are not fundamentally a matter of one's personal preference or subjective taste. She says that it is of primary importance for students to acquire sound intellectual criteria or standards and to learn how to assess their own work. According to her, students come to class without well-developed intellectual standards but graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. When asked to explain her concept of critical thinking she says: "Critical thinking is being able to look at a situation and analyze what is going on and ask questions that enable you to get at alternatives. To be able to make up your mind by getting beyond the rhetoric." Her responses to the open-ended questions, however, are quite vague and suggest that she hasn't clarified, for example, the difference between "constructing beliefs" and "constructing knowledge." She in general assumes that if students are actively engaged and "thinking for themselves", they are ipso facto thinking critically. Nowhere does she mention that students can actively construct prejudice as well as knowledge, poor thinking as well as sound thinking. Nowhere does she mention the importance of students thinking clearly, accurately, precisely, relevantly, logically, etc... When asked to describe a typical day in class that fosters critical thinking she says: "I use a holistic, constructivist basis. Students construct their own meaning, working together, dynamic, in living and breathing class discussions and debates." When asked what critical thinking skills are most important for students to develop, she is quite vague. She says, "Being able to assess validity, to look at and assess their own work, what the next step ought to be, to be able to choose issues that are important." When asked how she would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, she equates critical thinking with active learning, saying: . "I would look at students' products. Look for originality. Going beyond the task." When asked for her personal conception of intellectual standards, she says: "(I would look for them to) take their own positions. I don't know that I would apply general standards." She is unclear about the differences between assumptions, inferences, and implications. Profile H Professor H (79) is representative of the many faculty members who equate the fact of students actively "processing" information with their thinking critically about it. Most of those who think this way tend to think in terms of Bloom's taxonomy. Hence, critical thinking then is viewed as going beyond "knowledge" acquisition. Knowledge acquisition is viewed essentially as lower order memorization and recall, while "processing" is viewed as going beyond recall to "internalization". Professor H thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as explicit and a product of his own thinking (as well as theory). He says he distinguishes critical thinking skills, traits, and values (though his subsequent answers do not support this claim). According to him, his students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards, but that it is "of primary importance" that they acquire such standards and learn thereby to assess their own work. He claims that students in the program graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability as well as a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are vague and suggest that he hasn't in fact thought much about critical thinking. He explains his concept of critical thinking as follows: "Critical thinking is analyzing an event before a decision is made." He says that "almost all" of his instruction is based on critical thinking because "as long as it is not knowledge acquisition, it is critical thinking. Students analyze and draw their own conclusions." When asked what critical thinking skills are most important for students to develop, he says, "The skills of analysis and recognition of multiple perspectives and then picking out the appropriate action." When asked how he would assess the extent to which another faculty member was or was not fostering critical thinking in their classes, he says "Do they go beyond recall to have the students analyzing and putting it back together to make a decision on their own?" When asked for his personal conception of intellectual standards, he says "Are they using all the information? (Are they considering) multiple viewpoints?" His understanding of basic critical thinking terms is vague. He explains the difference between an assumption and an inference as follows: "An assumption is something that takes place automatically. In an inference you are going in some direction." Concerning the difference between an inference and an implication, he says: "An inference is more biased. An implication is sounder judgments, something that would follow a chain of events." (Note, he is unaware that inferences can be valid or invalid, well or poorly supported, and an implication to thought follows whether or not we ever act upon it--and hence need not be related to any chain of events).

Strong Profiles

Profile J (26) Professor J thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in his instructional objectives. He identifies his concept of critical thinking as a product of one or more theories of critical thinking to which he explicitly subscribes. He does not distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to him, his students graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a good level of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. His responses to the open-ended questions, however, are relatively clear and elaborated. He cites Paulo Friere and John Dewey as fundamental influences in his thinking about critical thinking. He says his main goal is the "empowerment" of students. He says he strives to model critical thinking with his students in a variety of ways, including evaluating various aspects of the course with the students (e.g., what structures being used are working and which are not having their designed effect). He is especially concerned with the intellectual and linguistic development of students and in encouraging students to begin to take charge of their minds and their lives. He develops special strategies to use in helping students to read critically and he challenges the students continually to examine their own presuppositions, as well as the presuppositions of the status quo, of society, of schooling--not excepting his own instructional design. Rather than focus on covering information, professor J helps students to learn skills of finding and assessing information. He concentrates his effort on key concepts which help students assimilate new information. He wants students to discover different modes of thinking that enable them to question dominant sources of information. He wants students to develop a critical understanding of the social context of education and often has students discuss the ultimate purpose of education. Gaining perspective, learning new frames of reference, questioning assumptions, evaluating information for its relevance to their values, involving students in more "authentic" modes of assessment--these are central goals and emphases. Professor J has a well-elaborated conception of intellectual standards. He emphasizes students clarifying their views, evaluating relevance, identifying implications, accurately recognizing presuppositions, determining the coherence of views presented, adhering to the rigors of the scientific method with its goals of accuracy and precision, evaluating reasoning for its validity, and striving for soundness in judgment. Profile K (25) Professor K thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance in her instructional objectives. She says her concept of critical thinking is explicit and a product of one of more theories of critical thinking to which she explicitly subscribes. She cites Matthew Lipman as a fundamental source of theory. She does distinguish critical thinking skills, traits, and values. According to her, students do not come to class with well-developed intellectual standards but he thinks they do graduate with a good level of critical thinking ability and a high good of ability to foster critical thinking in their future students. Her responses to the open-ended questions are relatively clear and well-elaborated. She defines critical thinking as effective problem solving. She fosters it by systematically confronting students, contradicting them to get them to think. She models alternative views, plays devil's advocate, and holds students responsible for their thinking. Hence, though she is a "constructivist" she does not assume that students will automatically construct knowledge simply because they are actively engaged. She believes they must experience careful cultivation within an environment in which they are systematically challenged. She believes in "whole-hearted responsibility." Students must own their decisions and be accountable. She designs her classes so that students must evaluate each other's work. She uses a case study approach, but one in which students critique other students on their cases studies. She uses lecture to present theory, but then students are forced to critique their own understanding of the theories and apply them to their cases. She focuses 40% to 50% of class time on interactive activities, but she holds students responsible for a level of performance in those activities. She designs ways to hold students responsible to do their assigned reading so that they are prepared for the in-class work. She argues that students must continually go back and forth between experience and theory, and between thinking and reflecting on where that thinking is coming from. She argues that students must become conscious of their own theories and what they are based on. Theories must be considered with their objections. Professor K's conception of intellectual standards is framed in the context of the above remarks. Students must express and defend their views, hear objections and answer the objections, hear other views and learn from those views. They must consider alternatives and check their reasoning to make sure it is logical. They must also check their information sources. Professor L (18) Professor L is important as a rare example of a professor whose answers regarding critical thinking reflect intellectual humility. She explicitly admits that her knowledge of critical thinking is limited. She tries to make critical thinking primary in her classes, but she freely admits that she has only her only critical thinking intuitions to go on. In her view critical thinking is the ability to define a problem and develop a solution to it. It includes recognizing strategies that are effective, using criteria for "correct" performance, and then assessing their own performance. Concerning reconciling content coverage with fostering critical thinking, she says that if you give students the material so fast that they are not able to learn it, then coverage makes no sense. She gives a good example from volleyball. She says it would do you no good to hear lectures on volleyball if you are not able to use them effectively in performance of the game. Concerning the component skills of critical thinking, she freely admits that she has never studied critical thinking intellectually, and so "I'm not sure how to explain it." Concerning her personal conception of intellectual standards, her refreshing answer is "This is something I haven't thought about." (The strength of this profile is in the intellectual humility that it displays. This is a professor who is clearly ready to learn.) Professor M (92) Professor M thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance to his instructional objectives. He thinks of knowledge, truth and sound judgment as not fundamentally a matter of his own personal preference or subjective taste. He does not distinguish between critical thinking skills and traits. He was one of the few faculty members in the study to state that the students in his department develop only a low level ability to think critically. Professor M's responses to the open ended questions were relatively clear and elaborated. He sees critical thinking as "being able to reach the sensible conclusions on the basic of logic and evidence, the ability to perceive contradictions...to attempt to resolve them." He says that on a typical class day he focuses on "presenting problems to students as opposed to conclusions." In terms of the critical thinking skills he thinks are the most important for students to develop, he says they most need to develop the ability to seek and evaluate evidence, to use logic to reach defensible conclusions. Furthermore he says that they must be able to evaluate positions of their own and others, "to go beyond superficial understandings of reality." Professor M says that he places strong emphasis on helping students develop philosophical underpinnings of their eventual teaching procedures through a critical thinking approach. He goes on to say that he wants to students to "approach teaching as an intellectual task as opposed to a technical one. One of his primary objectives is to help students develop their ability to gather relevant points of view when dealing with broad, complex issues. Furthermore, he expresses the view that teachers should not present students with "finished answers." Rather they should help students construct their own meanings by teaching them to think through issues in a critical manner. In focusing on the philosophy of education, he presents the key concept as "a logically consistent interrelated set of principles about the nature of knowledge, learning, and teaching that generates practical solutions for the everyday problems of teaching." He makes it clear to students that they are responsible for forming their own philosophy, for determining the principles they think are important which will guide what they do in the classroom. Some questions he uses to guide their thinking are:

  • What are the proper aims of education? (Not what works, but what purposes are worth working for?)
  • What knowledge is worth knowing (teaching)?
  • Who should decide what knowledge is worth knowing?
  • What is an educated person?
  • What kind of relationships should teachers establish with students?
  • To what extent should teachers prepare students to be agents for change?
  • To what extent should they prepare them to 'fit it'?" 

Before students write answers to these questions, Prof. M leads a discussion which explores all points of view relevant to the issues embedded in them. In these discussions, he tries to persuade them of each of the varying points of view. Then after exposure to these differing views, they write their philosophy of teaching, pointing out principles they believe are important in good teaching, and supporting their positions through reasoned judgment. Professor N (104) Professor N thinks of critical thinking as of primary importance to his instructional objectives. He says that his concept of critical thinking is largely explicit in his thinking. Furthermore, in his concept of critical thinking he explicitly distinguishes critical thinking skills from traits. His responses to the open ended questions are relatively well elaborated. He describes his concept of critical thinking as gathering evidence, evaluating evidence, evaluating the sources of evidence, defining and dissecting the argument or thesis of any given piece of writing for its logic, identifying the points of view and question at issue, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of an argument. Professor N says that critical thinking involves being aware of one's value judgments and having the willingness to evaluate the evidence before coming to a conclusion. Professor N argues that "content without critical thinking is empty content." He believes that "content without the ability to evaluate it is content that will be mastered only for the length of the course." On the contrary, he says that teachers must organize content so that it is presented logically and so that students some to understand the connections between ideas. In his world history class, he encourages students to think critically about evidence, and what evidence reveals. In this class he uses multiple "primary sources" of information, dating from the time under investigation (e.g. Epic literature, pyramid tombs, Plato's Republic). He provides students with questions they should think through as they read and investigate the information, questions such as "What was the purpose of the author, or what was the purpose of a particular practice? What can this fragment from the past reveal about the culture under investigation? What pieces of information are relevant and why? For his exams, students are asked to develop and then compare arguments on both sides of an issue. They are to determine why certain arguments are more persuasive than others. He says that through his exams, students must demonstrate their ability to consider all points of view which are relevant to an issue, and to document their positions through reasoning. Professor O (45) Professor O considers critical thinking as having primary importance to her instructional objectives. She says that critical thinking is explicit in her thinking, and that it is largely a product of one or more theories of critical thinking. She distinguishes critical thinking skills and traits in her concept of critical thinking. Her responses to the open ended questions, and to follow-up interview questions, were clear and relatively well-elaborated. She understands critical thinking as learning how to think at an in-depth level, to be able to identify and think about problems, situations, and resolutions in a precise and focused manner. She also says that critical thinking means carefully assessing alternatives, figuring out the pros and cons of each. She adds to her definition that critical thinking involves applying reasoning and logic to problems and circumstances in a critical, disciplined and thorough manner. To develop the critical thinking abilities of her students, she has them select a topic to analyze related to a complex problem in education. She then has them critically analyze the different sides to the issue, think through the implications of the possible solutions to the problem, and then come up with recommendations. They are then to turn in the final product (paper) as well as make a presentation to the class which focuses on the process they went through in reaching their final conclusions or recommendations. Furthermore, she says that she tries to combine informal lecture with group discussions, where there is "a lot of give and take." She says that she believes strongly in using Socratic questioning to "draw students out." Professor O requires students to develop their own philosophies of education throughout the course, by focusing on questions such as "What is the ultimate purpose of education? Who is to be educated? Is everyone to be educated? Or are only a privileged few to be educated? She asks students to answer these questions, providing their reasoning for each answer. She asks them to consider alternative ways of answering the question. In preparation for writing their philosophies of education, Professor O asks students to take on roles with respect to particular complex questions related to education, and then debate the issues with one another. She often asks them to take a point of view which differs from their own and to debate from that position. In her classes, professor O requires students to routinely critique each other's work. She does this by having them exchange papers and review one another's papers. She provides guidelines for the standards they are to focus on. Students are to use standards such as: What are the key questions in the paper? How well organized is the paper? How specific are the details? How in-depth are the ideas explored? To what extent are the ideas well thought through? How understandable are the ideas?

Overall Conclusions and Implications

Critical thinking is clearly an honorific phrase in the minds of most teacher educators such that they feel obliged to claim both familiarity with it and commitment to it in their teaching, despite the fact that few have had any in-depth exposure to the research on the concept and most have only a vague understanding of what it is and what is involved in bringing it successfully into instruction. Critical thinking is commonly confused with active involvement in learning (forgetting that active involvement alone is quite compatible with active "mis-learning"). A vague appeal to words from Bloom's Taxonomy (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) is often taken to be demonstrative of knowledge of critical thinking. Even faculty in the CSU, which has a formal policy on critical thinking instruction, is apparently largely unfamiliar with the "definition of critical thinking" and specifications of what minimal conditions for instruction in it are inherent in the policy. It is clear that virtually all departments represented in the study uncritically assume that instruction in critical thinking takes place--without any effort to verify this assumption. In fact, we found no evidence in these interviews of any systematic efforts that have been made to assess instruction for critical thinking within any of the schools of education studied. What is more, there is little understanding of how to assess it--should schools of education desire to do it. Most disturbingly, since the overwhelming majority assumes that the faculty already understand and emphasize critical thinking in their classes, any "in-house" assessment would doubtless be perceived as a pointless "political" process to be carried out with a minimum of effort (but with a clear sense of how to achieve the politically correct answer). In other words, since professors in schools of education assume that they understand critical thinking and how to teach for it, and that they are already successful in teaching their students both, it follows that it will be exceedingly difficult to produce substantial changes in teacher certification programs in these areas. It is clear from the results of the study that we are very far from a state of affairs in which critical thinking is a hallmark of instruction in teacher preparation programs. Present instruction is likely to produce teachers who, on the one hand, are confident that they not only understand critical thinking but also know how to teach for it, but who, in point of fact, understand neither. Many will equate critical thinking with mere active involvement or "cooperative learning." Others will believe that some acquaintance with the terms of Bloom's Taxonomy or Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intellegences is equivalent to understanding critical thinking. Some will equate it with an emphasis on learning styles or with concept maps or some other tool or facet or dimension of learning. Others will equate the whole of critical thinking with some component part of it. Some will therefore emphasize multiple points of view (and take that to be the whole of it). Some will emphasize recognizing one's assumptions. Some will emphasize questioning information sources. Some will emphasize analyzing concepts. But very few will have a comprehensive sense of the whole or a realistic idea of how to cultivate it while teaching the content of a subject or discipline. Using the criteria of the California State Universities and Colleges as an alternative reference point, it is clear that, based on the information we have gathered, the overwhelming number of those certified to teach have little understanding of how to teach so that students will understand "the relationship of language to logic,... (or have) the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief....(or acquire) the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought." Finally, given the information gathered in this study, it is highly likely that most of those certified to teach have, given present instruction, little understanding of what reasoning is, what assumptions are, what inferences are, what implications are, or what it is to reason with intellectual discipline within a subject field (historically, biologically, psychologically, ...). It appears likely that we are now certifying teachers who not only have little understanding of critical thinking, or how to teach it, but also wrongly and confidently think they do. The end result is that California classrooms are places in which both teachers and students lack explicit knowledge of how to reason in a disciplined way about serious subjects and questions. In the absence of that understanding, one can expect a drifting toward intellectual relativism (i.e., toward the view that all answers sincerely believed and defended are equally good since, as far as they can see, there is no final way to intellectually assess competing answers other than by degree of active involvement in their defense). Subjectivity of response, subjectivity of grading, intellectual undisciplined answers will in all likelihood be unconsciously encouraged. Open-mindedness will be confused with the willingness to accept everyone's answer to a complex question as equally "right" (for them). Given the facts revealed in this study, it is unlikely that students preparing to teach are being instructed in the basic structures of reasoning. Students studying history, biology, and mathematics will not recognize that historians, biologists, and mathematicians equally make assumptions, develop specialized concepts, reason to conclusions, make interpretations of data, trace implications and consequences, define problems, concerns, and issues, and think within a disciplinary frame of reference or point of view. Students studying English, Physics, and Chemistry will not recognize that thinking clearly, accurately, and precisely; thinking deeply, broadly, and logically; are equally important intellectual criteria in every subject. Students will continue to lack any insight into the fact that moral issues and problems require as much disciplined reasoning and clarity of definition as does reasoning in any other domain. Students will graduate, in short, without any plausible semblance of intellectual perspective and discipline. If we are interested in teachers certified in California having a reasonable grounding in the rudiments of critical thinking based on a rich, substantive concept of it, or at least a minimalist, baseline concept, then we have a major task facing us, not the least of which is persuading the majority of the faculty that they do not already know what they confidently assume that they do know.

Limitations of the Study

There were numerous limitations of our study. Some were limitations of time and resources. We were limited in the quantity of people we could interview. We were limited as to the length of the interview. We were limited in the time we had to collect exemplary practices, as well as in the time designated to assembling the report as a whole. There are therefore limitations in the richness of the data collected. With more time and financial support we could have conducted interviews in yet greater depth. We could have engaged in greater study of exemplary practices including, for example, classroom visitations. We could have broadened the net in soliciting exemplary practices and thereby obtained examples from even more disciplines. We could have interviewed teachers in the field, new graduates from teacher education programs, even students at the K-12 level. Very much more might have been done, had there been the time and dollars to do it. 

Nevertheless, despite the obvious limitations of the study, certain patterns in the data we did collect were so consistent across a wide variety of faculty that we believe the study unequivocally establishes some things beyond question, perhaps the main one being that most faculty teaching in teacher education programs have not thought systematically or deeply enough about critical thinking to express a clear, elaborated, and coherent conception of it. It is also beyond question, given the data of the study, that a high percentage of faculty members simply assume that they and their colleagues do understand critical thinking and do effectively teach it. It is also beyond question, from the data we gathered, that it is possible to identify college and university faculty who have devoted some significant portion of their time to developing a clear, well-elaborated, and coherent conception of critical thinking and are actively engaged in developing a variety of effective ways to cultivate critical thinking in their students. What remains to be seen is whether or not we develop the academic and political motivation to pursue a realistic, long-range solution to these problems. It is difficult to predict at this time the degree of resistance and denial that will emerge from education faculty, and the broader education community, to the results of this study. No professional group likes to hear that it has significantly failed to act effectively in fostering a basic value and in furthering an end importantly connected both to its prestige and mission. We can only point to the fact that there are a growing number of faculty nationally who are recognizing the failure of colleges and universities to effectively teach students to think critically and become effective problem solvers. Unfortunately, the history of education does not provide us with a similarly large problem that was solved in the education community by some set of strategies which we could now appropriate, which could be used in developing strategies to rectify the problems clearly documented in the study.

Critical Thinking Advisory Task Force

An Advisory Task Force was appointed consisting of teacher educators, subject matter faculty, and K-12 teachers and administrators to guide the study design, interpretation of data, and policy recommendations. The following individuals served as members of the Critical Thinking Advisory Task Force for this study:

, Teacher
Edison High School Stockton
Unified School District

, Professor
School of Education St. Mary's College

, Professor
Department of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara

, Professor
School of Education
California State University, Los Angeles

, Teacher
Spurgeon Intermediate School
Santa Ana Unified School District

, Professor
Jack Fraenkel, Professor College of Education
San Francisco State University

,
President Lorand and Company, Inc.
Richard Pope, Teacher
Toyon Elementary School
Berryessa Union Elementary School District

, Principal
Los Gatos High School
Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union
High School District

, Professor
Department of Sociology
California State University,
Los Angeles School of Education

University of the Pacific

 

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COMMENTS

  1. What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

    It makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice. According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]: Universal. Crucial for the economy. Essential for improving language and presentation skills.

  2. Without Critical Thinking Skills, We Can Easily Be Misled

    Without being able to think critically and analyze information, we are vulnerable to being misled by social media and news outlets. Thinking critically takes effort, study, and sometimes a ...

  3. The Importance Of Critical Thinking, and how to improve it

    Critical thinking can help you better understand yourself, and in turn, help you avoid any kind of negative or limiting beliefs, and focus more on your strengths. Being able to share your thoughts can increase your quality of life. 4. Form Well-Informed Opinions.

  4. Critical Thinking: A Simple Guide and Why It's Important

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  5. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking is the process of using and assessing reasons to evaluate statements, assumptions, and arguments in ordinary situations. The goal of this process is to help us have good beliefs, where "good" means that our beliefs meet certain goals of thought, such as truth, usefulness, or rationality. Critical thinking is widely ...

  6. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources. Critical thinking skills help you to: Identify credible sources. Evaluate and respond to arguments.

  7. 3 Core Critical Thinking Skills Every Thinker Should Have

    To understand critical thinking skills and how they factor into critical thinking, one first needs a definition of the latter. Critical thinking (CT) is a metacognitive process, consisting of a ...

  8. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking ...

  9. Bridging critical thinking and transformative learning: The role of

    A significant contribution of the mainstream concept of critical thinking is the recognition that critical thinking includes not only abilities but also dispositions (Ennis, 1996 ... Although reflection is a necessary component of critical thinking, it is generally useful to help resolve a preexisting problem, which is often brought about by an ...

  10. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well. Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly ...

  11. Critical Thinking & Why It's So Important

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  12. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion. ... if necessary, construct a meaning ...

  13. Introduction to Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is not simply a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. ... Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones and modifying them if necessary. Critical thinking is crucial for self-reflection.

  14. 6 Benefits of Critical Thinking and Why They Matter

    Critical thinking capacity does all that and more. 4. It's a multi-faceted practice. Critical thinking is known for encompassing a wide array of disciplines, and cultivating a broad range of cognitive talents. One could indeed say that it's a cross-curricular activity for the mind, and the mind must be exercised just like a muscle to stay ...

  15. Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

    Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings. Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information, and discriminate between useful and less useful ...

  16. The State of Critical Thinking Today

    There is a Necessary Connection Between Critical Thinking and Learning. The skills in up-grading thinking are the same skills as those required in up-grading learning. The art of thinking well illuminates the art of learning well. ... Critical thinking is not to be devoured in a single sitting nor yet at two or three workshops. It is a powerful ...

  17. Critical thinking

    Theorists have noted that such skills are only valuable insofar as a person is inclined to use them. Consequently, they emphasize that certain habits of mind are necessary components of critical thinking. This disposition may include curiosity, open-mindedness, self-awareness, empathy, and persistence. Although there is a generally accepted set of qualities that are associated with critical ...

  18. Why Critical Thinking Is Important (& How to Improve It)

    Critical thinking will enable you to better express your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Better communication helps others to understand you better, resulting in less frustration for both of you. Critical thinking fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that can be applied to any area of your life.

  19. 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.

  20. 6 important critical thinking skills you should master

    Find your Coach. The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance. Let's explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they're so important to the critical thinking process. 1.

  21. Center for Critical Thinking

    the fact that, as a rule, critical thinking is not presently being effectively taught at the high school, college and university level, and yet ... The most common confusion, perhaps, was confusion between what is necessary (for critical thinking) and what is sufficient (for it). For example, active engagement is necessary to critical thinking ...

  22. Critical thinking

    Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments in order to form a judgement by the application of rational, skeptical, and unbiased analyses and evaluation. The application of critical thinking includes self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective habits of the mind; thus, a critical thinker is a person who practices the ...

  23. 2.3: Necessary and Sufficient Conditions

    3. Necessary and Sufficient. 4. Neither Necessary nor Sufficient. Necessary and Sufficient conditions are things that are both enough for and required for something else. If X is a necessary and sufficient condition for Y, then: If X obtains, then Y must obtain (so any time X obtains, Y also obtains) And.

  24. Critical Thinking

    Jonathan Haber was an educational researcher, writer and entrepreneur working in the fields of critical-thinking education, assessment, and technology-enabled learning whose work has been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Wall Street Journal.He is the author of another MIT Press Essential Knowledge book, MOOCs, and The Critical Voter.