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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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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making  - What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking and decision-making  -, what is critical thinking, critical thinking and decision-making what is critical thinking.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making: What is Critical Thinking?

Lesson 1: what is critical thinking, what is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a term that gets thrown around a lot. You've probably heard it used often throughout the years whether it was in school, at work, or in everyday conversation. But when you stop to think about it, what exactly is critical thinking and how do you do it ?

Watch the video below to learn more about critical thinking.

Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions . It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better.

illustration of the terms logic, reasoning, and creativity

This may sound like a pretty broad definition, and that's because critical thinking is a broad skill that can be applied to so many different situations. You can use it to prepare for a job interview, manage your time better, make decisions about purchasing things, and so much more.

The process

illustration of "thoughts" inside a human brain, with several being connected and "analyzed"

As humans, we are constantly thinking . It's something we can't turn off. But not all of it is critical thinking. No one thinks critically 100% of the time... that would be pretty exhausting! Instead, it's an intentional process , something that we consciously use when we're presented with difficult problems or important decisions.

Improving your critical thinking

illustration of the questions "What do I currently know?" and "How do I know this?"

In order to become a better critical thinker, it's important to ask questions when you're presented with a problem or decision, before jumping to any conclusions. You can start with simple ones like What do I currently know? and How do I know this? These can help to give you a better idea of what you're working with and, in some cases, simplify more complex issues.  

Real-world applications

illustration of a hand holding a smartphone displaying an article that reads, "Study: Cats are better than dogs"

Let's take a look at how we can use critical thinking to evaluate online information . Say a friend of yours posts a news article on social media and you're drawn to its headline. If you were to use your everyday automatic thinking, you might accept it as fact and move on. But if you were thinking critically, you would first analyze the available information and ask some questions :

  • What's the source of this article?
  • Is the headline potentially misleading?
  • What are my friend's general beliefs?
  • Do their beliefs inform why they might have shared this?

illustration of "Super Cat Blog" and "According to survery of cat owners" being highlighted from an article on a smartphone

After analyzing all of this information, you can draw a conclusion about whether or not you think the article is trustworthy.

Critical thinking has a wide range of real-world applications . It can help you to make better decisions, become more hireable, and generally better understand the world around you.

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What is critical thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. We live in a world oversaturated with information of varying quality and relevance. To be an effective critical thinker, you need to focus on your own purpose and context, so that you can avoid information overload and keep track of your own line of thinking. .

Not all sources of information are equally credible, accurate or relevant. Questioning your sources will sharpen your thinking, help you select the most appropriate information and prepare the ground for further analysis and evaluation. .

Arguments can be found everywhere. Whenever somebody is trying to show that something is true, or persuade somebody else to agree with them, you can identify an argument. As a student, you will find that the ability to identify arguments is one of the most useful critical thinking skills. .

To analyse something means to examine it in detail, explain and interpret it. For the purposes of critical thinking you need to be able to examine sources, arguments, theories and processes, and explain how they work. Good analysis also involves examining, interpreting and explaining the interaction of evidence, reasoning, assumptions, methodologies, claims and arguments. .

Evaluation should consider and explain the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sources and the arguments they present. You need to be able to evaluate arguments, the claims that support those arguments, the evidence that supports those claims and the reasoning that connects them all. .

Creating arguments consists of bringing together evidence, reasoning and claims and developing your own main claim. Creating arguments is also called synthesis, which means “placing things together.” When you create arguments, you bring together the insights from your analysis and evaluation. You also consider how your critical thinking might apply in the broader context, and what new insights and perspectives it brings. .

Examples of critical thinking skills, mindsets and practices

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

Questioning skills

How do i apply questioning skills.

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

How do I apply a questioning mindset?

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

What does good questioning look like in practice?

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

Analytical skills

How do i apply analytical skills.

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

How do I apply an analytical mindset?

  • I make connections between ideas.

What does analysis look like in practice?

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

Evaluation skills

How do i apply evaluation skills.

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

How do I apply an evaluation mindset?

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

What does evaluation look like in practice?

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

Synthesis skills

How do i apply synthesis skills.

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

How do I apply a synthesis mindset?

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

What does synthesis look like in practice?

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

Taking it further

Clarify your purpose and context.

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

Question your sources

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

Identify arguments

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

Analyse sources and arguments

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

Evaluate the arguments of others

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

Create your own argument

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

Your feedback matters

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

Developing Critical Thinking

  • Posted January 10, 2018
  • By Iman Rastegari

Critical Thinking

In a time where deliberately false information is continually introduced into public discourse, and quickly spread through social media shares and likes, it is more important than ever for young people to develop their critical thinking. That skill, says Georgetown professor William T. Gormley, consists of three elements: a capacity to spot weakness in other arguments, a passion for good evidence, and a capacity to reflect on your own views and values with an eye to possibly change them. But are educators making the development of these skills a priority?

"Some teachers embrace critical thinking pedagogy with enthusiasm and they make it a high priority in their classrooms; other teachers do not," says Gormley, author of the recent Harvard Education Press release The Critical Advantage: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in School . "So if you are to assess the extent of critical-thinking instruction in U.S. classrooms, you’d find some very wide variations." Which is unfortunate, he says, since developing critical-thinking skills is vital not only to students' readiness for college and career, but to their civic readiness, as well.

"It's important to recognize that critical thinking is not just something that takes place in the classroom or in the workplace, it's something that takes place — and should take place — in our daily lives," says Gormley.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Gormley looks at the value of teaching critical thinking, and explores how it can be an important solution to some of the problems that we face, including "fake news."

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iT unes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.

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An education podcast that keeps the focus simple: what makes a difference for learners, educators, parents, and communities

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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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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.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide for Students

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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)

Nichols College

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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how is critical thinking important

Critical Thinking: Where to Begin

how is critical thinking important

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If you are new to critical thinking or wish to deepen your conception of it, we recommend you review the content below and bookmark this page for future reference.

Our Conception of Critical Thinking...

getting started with critical thinking

"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. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness..."

"Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fairminded way. People who think critically attempt, with consistent and conscious effort, to live rationally, reasonably, and empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.

They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always to consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living , because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world."

Why Critical Thinking?

how is critical thinking important

The Problem:

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our lives and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A Brief Definition:

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it. The Result: 

  A well-cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
  • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. Read more about our concept of critical thinking .

The Essential Dimensions of Critical Thinking

how is critical thinking important

Our conception of critical thinking is based on the substantive approach developed by Dr. Richard Paul and his colleagues at the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking over multiple decades. It is relevant to every subject, discipline, and profession, and to reasoning through the problems of everyday life. It entails five essential dimensions of critical thinking:

At the left is an overview of the first three dimensions. In sum, the elements or structures of thought enable us to "take our thinking apart" and analyze it. The intellectual standards are used to assess and evaluate the elements. The intellectual traits are dispositions of mind embodied by the fairminded critical thinker. To cultivate the mind, we need command of these essential dimensions, and we need to consistently apply them as we think through the many problems and issues in our lives.

The Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards

how is critical thinking important

To learn more about the elements of thought and how to apply the intellectual standards, check out our interactive model. Simply click on the link below, scroll to the bottom of the page, and explore the model with your mouse.

Why the Analysis of Thinking Is Important If you want to think well, you must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. You must learn how to take thinking apart. Analyzing the Logic of a Subject When we understand the elements of reasoning, we realize that all subjects, all disciplines, have a fundamental logic defined by the structures of thought embedded within them. Therefore, to lay bare a subject’s most fundamental logic, we should begin with these questions:

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The Critical Thinking Bookstore  

Our online bookstore houses numerous books and teacher's manuals , Thinker's Guides , videos , and other educational materials .  

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Watch our Event Calendar , which provides an overview of all upcoming conferences and academies hosted by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Clicking an entry on the Event Calendar will bring up that event's details, and the option to register. For those interested in online learning, the Foundation offers accredited online courses in critical thinking for both educators and the general public, as well as an online test for evaluating basic comprehension of critical thinking concepts . We are in the process of developing more online learning tools and tests to offer the community.  

Utilizing this Website

This website contains large amounts research and an online library of articles , both of which are freely available to the public. We also invite you to become a member of the Critical Thinking Community , where you will gain access to more tools and materials.  If you cannot locate a resource on a specific topic or concept, try searching for it using our Search Tool . The Search Tool is at the upper-right of every page on the website.

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.

University of Louisville. " What is Critical Thinking ."

American Management Association. " AMA Critical Skills Survey: Workers Need Higher Level Skills to Succeed in the 21st Century ."

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Critical Thinking Is About Asking Better Questions

  • John Coleman

how is critical thinking important

Six practices to sharpen your inquiry.

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze and effectively break down an issue in order to make a decision or find a solution. At the heart of critical thinking is the ability to formulate deep, different, and effective questions. For effective questioning, start by holding your hypotheses loosely. Be willing to fundamentally reconsider your initial conclusions — and do so without defensiveness. Second, listen more than you talk through active listening. Third, leave your queries open-ended, and avoid yes-or-no questions. Fourth, consider the counterintuitive to avoid falling into groupthink. Fifth, take the time to stew in a problem, rather than making decisions unnecessarily quickly. Last, ask thoughtful, even difficult, follow-ups.

Are you tackling a new and difficult problem at work? Recently promoted and trying to both understand your new role and bring a fresh perspective? Or are you new to the workforce and seeking ways to meaningfully contribute alongside your more experienced colleagues? If so, critical thinking — the ability to analyze and effectively break down an issue in order to make a decision or find a solution — will be core to your success. And at the heart of critical thinking is the ability to formulate deep, different, and effective questions.

how is critical thinking important

  • JC John Coleman is the author of the HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose . Subscribe to his free newsletter, On Purpose , follow him on Twitter @johnwcoleman, or contact him at johnwilliamcoleman.com.

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critical thinking

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  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Critical Thinking
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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.

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

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The Importance of Critical Thinking, For Students and Ourselves

A group of students sit at a table discussing the importance of critical thinking

Critical thinking is a vital skill, yet it’s often neglected. In higher education, we know the importance of learning objectives that let us measure learner success. Starting with a clear definition of critical thinking allows us to identify the associated skills that we want to imbue in our students and ourselves.

Defining Critical Thinking

According to the Oxford Languages dictionary , critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” It sounds relatively simple, yet we often form judgments without that all-important objective analysis/evaluation piece.

Employers on the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Social Sciences Advisory Board tell us that they want to hire people with critical thinking skills, but applicants often lack this ability. According to Professor of Science Dr. Norman Herr , critical thinking skills can be boiled down to the following key sequential elements:

  • Identification of premises and conclusions — Break arguments down into logical statements
  • Clarification of arguments — Identify ambiguity in these stated assertions
  • Establishment of facts — Search for contradictions to determine if an argument or theory is complete and reasonable
  • Evaluation of logic — Use inductive or deductive reasoning to decide if conclusions drawn are adequately supported
  • Final evaluation — Weigh the arguments against the evidence presented

As educators, we must teach our students those critical thinking skills and practice them ourselves to objectively analyze an onslaught of information. Ideas, especially plausible-sounding philosophies, should be challenged and pass the credibility litmus test.

Red Flag Alert

The School Library Journal lists four types of information that should raise red flags when we’re watching the news, reading social media, or at any point in our everyday lives when we are confronted with something purported to be “fact:”

  • Fake news, which refers to purported news that is demonstrably untrue.
  • Misinformation, which is spread by those who don’t realize that it’s false or only partially true.
  • Disinformation, which is deliberately spread by people who know that it’s not accurate and who want to spread a false message.
  • Propaganda, which is information that is spread with a specific agenda. It may or may not be false, but it’s intended to get an emotional reaction.

Get With the Times

SNHU, and other colleges and universities across the U.S., must use updated tools to help their students think critically about the information they consume. Currently, many institutions of higher learning fail to teach students how to identify misinformation sources. Sam Wineburg and Nadiv Ziv , professors of education at Stanford University, argue that many colleges offer guides to evaluating website trustworthiness, but far too many of them base their advice on a 1998 report on assessing websites. They warn that it makes no sense for colleges to share 20-year-old advice on dealing with the rapidly-changing online landscape, where two decades feels like a century.

Further, as educators in institutions of higher education, we must afford learners as many opportunities as possible to hone their critical thinking skills when interacting with instructors and fellow students. Greg Lukianoff and Johnathan Haidt , authors of The Coddling of the American Mind , contend that “one of the most brilliant features of universities is that, when they are working properly, they are communities of scholars who cancel out one another’s confirmation biases .” Without exploring opposing viewpoints, students may fall prey to confirmation bias, further cementing ideas that they already believe to be true. Being inclusive when it comes to viewpoint diversity is indispensable for avoiding these echo chambers that circumvent having one’s ideas challenged.

Separating Wheat from Chaff: Critical Thinking Examples

As we teach our students the importance of critical thinking, how do we equip them to sift through the onslaught of information they encounter every day, both personally and in their educational pursuits? And how do we do the same for ourselves?

Here are four critical thinking examples that anyone can apply when evaluating information:

  • Consider whether the person who wrote or is sharing the information has any vested interest in doing so. For example, a writer may have a degree and professional experience that gives them expertise to write an article on specific communication techniques. Be aware that the writer’s credibility can be affected by outside interests. These include being paid to write a book with a certain viewpoint, giving paid seminars, affiliation with certain organizations or anything else that creates a financial or personal interest in promoting a specific perspective.
  • Consider the venue in which the person is sharing the information. Newscasts and newspapers once were slanted more toward neutrality, although there was never an era when bias was completely absent. The 19th century even had its own version of “clickbait” in the form of yellow journalism . Today, it’s getting more difficult for those with critical thinking skills to find unbiased sources. Websites like Towards Data Science publish lists rating major sites on their leanings; check these lists to view content on biased sites through a more skeptical lens, verifying their claims for yourself.
  • Read beyond clickbait headlines. Websites create headlines to generate traffic and ad revenue, not to support critical thinking or give accurate information. Too many people go by what the headline says without reading more deeply, even though media misrepresentation of studies is rampant . Often, the information contained within the article is not accurately represented in the headline. Sometimes there’s even a direct contradiction, or the publication is focusing on one single study that may mean nothing because other studies have contradictory results.
  • Use Snopes , Fact Check , and other fact-checking websites. Ironically, Snopes itself has been the victim of misinformation campaigns designed to discredit its efforts to promote the importance of critical thinking.

Anyone in a teaching position should point their students toward reliable references. For example, at SNHU, instructors can point their students towards the Shapiro Library for their assignments. No matter where you teach, the main objective is to give them opportunities to apply critical thinking skills by evaluating material that they encounter in everyday life. Another way to do this at SNHU or in any online classroom is by incorporating elements of the four points into your announcements, discussion posts and feedback. For example, you might post two articles with differing viewpoints on the week’s material. For each, break down the publication’s possible slant, the way in which any research-based material is presented and the author’s credentials. Hypothetically, ask students whether those factors might be playing into the opinions expressed.

Misinformation Morphs into Disinformation

Misinformation, if not addressed, easily turns into disinformation when it is readily shared by students, individuals and groups that may know it is wrong. They may continue to intentionally spread it to cast doubt or stir divisiveness. Students listen to their peers, and the more critical thinking is addressed in a course, the more we prepare students not to fall into the misinformation trap.

Courtney Brown and Sherrish Holland , of the Center for the Professional Education of Teachers, argue that for educators, the challenge is now far more about how they need to inform their students to interpret and assess the information they come across and not simply how to gain access to it. The term “fake news” is used to discredit anyone trying to clarify fact from fiction. Fake news is a cover for some people when they are being deliberately deceptive. As educators become clearer about the distinction, it can be better communicated to students.

Anyone Can Promote Critical Thinking

Even if you don’t teach, use those points in conversations to help others hone their critical thinking skills, along with a dose of emotional intelligence. If someone shares misinformation with you, don’t be combative. Instead, use probing statements and questions designed to spark their critical thinking.

Here are some examples:

“That’s very interesting. Do you think the person they’re quoting might be letting his business interests color what he’s saying?”

“I know that sometimes the media oversimplifies research. I wonder who funded that study and if that’s influencing what they’re saying.”

Of course, you need to adapt to the situation and to make what you say sound organic and conversational, but the core idea remains the same. Inspire the other person to use critical thinking skills. Give them reasons to look more deeply into the topic instead of blindly accepting information. Course activities that stimulate interaction and a deep dive into course-related ideas will encourage perspective-taking and foster new avenues of thought along the path to life-long learning. As American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” While Mead was referring to younger children, this statement is apropos for learners in higher education who are tasked with dissecting volumes of information.

It’s crucial to teach our students to question what they read and hear. Jerry Baldasty , provost at the University of Washington, believes that democracies live and die by the ability of their people to access information and engage in robust discussions based upon facts. It is the facts that are being attacked by misinformation. The result is a growing distrust of our core societal institution. People have lost confidence in religious organizations, higher education, government and the media as they believe deliberately deceptive information they come across.

Baldasty argues, “this is why it is crucial that we educate our students how to think critically, access and analyze data, and, above all, question the answers.” Students need critical thinking skills for much more than their self-enlightenment. They will become our leaders, politicians, teachers, researchers, advocates, authors, business owners and perhaps most importantly, voters. The more we can imbue them with critical thinking skills, the better.

Dr Nickolas Dominello

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About southern new hampshire university.

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs . Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU  page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.

More From Forbes

10 elements of critical thinking – and how to develop them.

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creative idea.Concept of idea and innovation

My 6/7/24 post here – “Your Three Most Important Career Skills” – focused on the importance – and paucity – of critical thinking, critical listening, and critical reading.

Predictably, it prompted much reader response, mostly asking for elaboration.

What Comprises Critical Thinking

1. open-mindedness.

Malcolm Forbes postulated, “The role of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Critical thinking needs receptivity to new ideas and perspectives, and willingness to reconsider one’s beliefs or opinions – no matter how fundamental – when new evidence or arguments arise.

2. Curiosity

“I’m not necessarily smarter than anyone else,” explained Albert Einstein. “I’m infinitely more curious.” He had a natural inclination – from early childhood – to ask questions, seek information, and explore various viewpoints. His favorite question: “What if…?”

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Best 5% interest savings accounts of 2024, 3. mental stamina.

Critical thinking is difficult, rigorous, almost always takes time and patience, and can be exhausting. That’s OK, but you should never let a conclusion be the place where you got tired of thinking. Push on.

4. Analysis

Analysis breaks down complex information into smaller parts, to understand its components and how they relate. It’s our left brain at work: linear, logical, methodical, sequential, rational, and objective. It engages in deductive thinking. Computers also do this.

5. Interpretation and Inference

Interpretation makes meaning out of data, relying not just on the brain, but also on experience. It’s our transcendental right brain having fun: creative, intuitive, random, holistic, and playful. It engages in inductive thinking, which today’s computers can’t do, but which A.I. is trying. Through inference, we make sensible deductions based on available information; reach reasonable, workable conclusions; and assess the viability of those conclusions.

6. Evaluation

What’s it worth? To make better decisions, we must accurately assess the credibility, relevance, and significance of information, arguments, and/or evidence.

7. Articulation

“If you can’t explain something to a six-year-old,” declared Albert Einstein, “you probably don’t understand it yourself.” Critical intake and critical output are one and the same.

8. Problem-solving

Both sides of our brains solve problems, just differently. Critical thinking is about the ability to do both with equal aplomb.

9. Self-Accountability and Reflection

Bertrand Russell advised, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you’ve long taken for granted." In this case – our own thinking processes, biases, and assumptions – “now and then” should mean “always and ever.”

10. Metacognition

Avid self-awareness of one's own thinking processes, cognitive strategies, and sphere of awareness can insure ongoing improvement of critical skills.

Developing Your Critical Thinking

1. think creatively.

“Curiosity is the key to creativity,” said Akio Morita, founder of Sony. Cultivate your creativity by exploring the unknown and the ambiguous. Welcome different perspectives, alternative solutions, and new thinking. Always be looking for the spark. Listen to the new guy.

2. Ask Questions

Nothing starts until there is a question – or better, multiple questions. Cultivate a curious mindset by asking probing questions. Question assumptions, biases, and implications. Nothing is off the table.

3. Seek Diverse Perspectives

Diversity is much more than demographics. “Diversity,” explained Malcolm Forbes, “is the art of thinking independently together.” Welcome a variety of viewpoints and opinions, especially those different from your own. Engage in active discussions with people who hold different beliefs. Constantly challenge what you know or believe.

4. Evaluate Information

Learn to critically – and objectively – evaluate the credibility, relevance, and reliability of sources of information. Today’s chaotic media circus, further manipulated by special interests, elevates this challenge.

5. Practice Analytical Thinking

As analytical thinking is more orderly than creative thinking, it can be practiced every day. Good idea.

6. Develop Logical Reasoning Skills

Practice deductive and inductive reasoning to draw logical conclusions from what you already have. But remember, logic and creativity are often at odds.

Things look different in the rear-view mirror, and a day (or more) later.

8. Learn Different Problem-Solving Techniques

Different problems can be solved different ways. Conversely, many problems can be solved many ways.

9. Learn Active Listening

Identify the barriers to active listening – presuppositions, for example – and eliminate them. Fast.

10. Read. Read. Read!

Reading is the most proactive and stimulating way of taking in the world, not by clicking on little blue links, but by real reading: wide, deep, and time-consuming reading, which has a positive effect on thinking. Great leaders are great readers. This we know.

None of this happens in a day, but starting it happens any day.

Eli Amdur

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Critical thinking definition

how is critical thinking important

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
  • Which information resources should the author look to?
  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?

We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

We are a team specializing in writing essays and other assignments for college students and all other types of customers who need a helping hand in its making. We cover a great range of topics, offer perfect quality work, always deliver on time and aim to leave our customers completely satisfied with what they ordered.

The ordering process is fully online, and it goes as follows:

  • Select the topic and the deadline of your essay.
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  • Leave the email address, where your completed order will be sent to.
  • Select your prefered payment type, sit back and relax!

With lots of experience on the market, professionally degreed essay writers , online 24/7 customer support and incredibly low prices, you won't find a service offering a better deal than ours.

how is critical thinking important

Encouraging critical thinking in an era of AI paraphrasing

Laura Young

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In the age of digital transformation, where generative AI and AI paraphrasing are prevalent, the ability to think critically has never been more important.

Education is navigating a world increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence, and the way we process and interpret information is rapidly evolving. Critical thinking—the practice of analyzing and evaluating information to form a reasoned judgment—is a fundamental skill that empowers individuals to make informed decisions and solve complex problems.

Writing for Forbes, Ron Carucci notes that, “There’s a big difference between machine learning and ‘machine thinking’ … the minute we start looking at AI as machine thinking, we’re in trouble, because it means we’ve tried to outsource our own critical thinking and problem solving skills to a machine that is only replicating and regurgitating information it has gathered.” But AI paraphrasing tools are making it easier than ever to bypass this deeply important skill.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of teaching critical thinking in an era dominated by AI, with strategies for educators to promote critical thinking and ethical AI use among students.

What is paraphrasing vs AI paraphrasing?

A key aspect of critical thinking in academic and professional writing is paraphrasing. Writers generally paraphrase to reference credible authors, which in turn, establishes their own credibility.

Traditional paraphrasing requires a deep understanding of the content at hand, plus an ability to express it in a new form without altering the original meaning. It’s an alternative to using a quote, when a writer wants to use their own words, their own voice, but someone else’s idea. When a writer paraphrases, they show that they understand the meaning of the text, and it’s a common technique used to present information more concisely or clearly while properly attributing the original source.

AI paraphrasing, on the other hand, refers to the process of using AI technology to rewrite text while retaining the original meaning, sometimes without proper attribution. These AI-powered tools analyze the input text and generate alternative versions that convey the same information using different words or sentence structures. When powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP), AI paraphrasing tools can be remarkably sophisticated (more so than traditional text spinners) which is cause for concern for academic integrity.

Why is fostering critical thinking essential amidst AI paraphrasing tools?

The internet provides a vast amount of information, often with varying degrees of reliability. It is our critical thinking skills that enable us to discern credible sources from unreliable ones , ensuring we only rely on accurate information. AI paraphrasing tools do not carry out this task for us, thus understanding their limitations is key to academic and research success.

While AI paraphrasing tools can produce text that is grammatically correct, in parallel, they can produce contextually inaccurate or misleading information. Critical thinking helps users recognize these limitations and verify the information provided by AI.

Moreover, an over-reliance on AI paraphrasing tools can impact original thought and creativity. Teaching critical thinking encourages intellectual independence among students, empowering them to form their own ideas and arguments rather than passively accepting AI-generated content as being factually correct.

The use of AI in content creation also raises ethical questions about plagiarism and intellectual property. Critical thinking fosters ethical awareness, helping individuals use AI responsibly and respect the original authorship of content.

What are the risks of over-reliance on AI paraphrasing tools?

As AI paraphrasing tools become increasingly sophisticated and accessible, it's tempting to use them as a crutch for generating content quickly, particularly during periods of academic pressure . While these tools offer convenience, over-reliance on them presents several significant risks to students, their institutions, and the wider society.

AI paraphrasing tools often work by reordering or substituting words and phrases to create new sentences. This can result in bland and uninspired content that lacks the unique voice and creativity of the original author. Over time, this dependency can stifle a writer's ability to produce original work and diminish their creative capabilities, resulting in the atrophy of essential skills such as critical analysis, vocabulary development, and grammatical precision.

For students and learners, the process of writing and paraphrasing by hand is an essential part of learning. It encourages deep engagement with the material and promotes a better understanding of the subject matter. By using AI to paraphrase, they miss out on the mental exercise of evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing information. This can lead to a superficial understanding of the material, as users may accept AI-generated content without questioning its accuracy or depth.

AI paraphrasing tools are only as good as the data and algorithms behind them. If the original content contains errors or biases, these can be perpetuated and even amplified by paraphrasing tools. Students may unwittingly propagate misinformation or incorrect interpretations, leading to a cycle of inaccuracies that could result in awarding a degree or certificate to a student lacking crucial subject knowledge. This is particularly concerning when awarding high-stakes qualifications, such as law or medicine, raising ethical concerns. Students, for example, may use these tools to bypass the hard work of writing and learning, which can undermine the educational process and academic integrity standards of their institution.

To deter students from relying heavily on generative AI, educators can take steps to prepare their students for a world where generative AI and critical thinking coexist in harmony.

How can educators encourage critical thinking in an era of AI paraphrasing?

Critical thinking is a higher-order skill and arguably one of the most valuable in academia. It significantly impacts problem-solving and decision-making and is transferable across many disciplines and domains. Developing critical thinking takes practice, beginning at the earliest possible level and evolving to proficiency over time. Transferring critical thinking from one domain to another involves explicit and deliberate instruction.

While there is ongoing debate about whether critical thinking can be taught directly or merely encouraged, we believe it’s prudent to provide a set of tips designed to help students develop critical thinking skills.

Promote active learning and collaboration

Active learning—sometimes referred to as authentic learning —involves engaging students directly in the learning process, putting them at the center of the learning experience. To engage students in active learning, educators can encourage students to participate in discussions, debates, and problem-solving activities. These activities require students to analyze information, form arguments, and critically evaluate different perspectives. Techniques such as case studies, group projects, and hands-on experiments can also facilitate active learning.

A study by Deslauriers et al. ( 2019 ) sought to measure actual learning vs. feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. The results indicated that although students felt that they learned more in the traditional lecture setting—rendered by an inherent student bias against active learning—they actually learned more when taking part in active learning strategies.

Encourage questioning

Foster a classroom environment where questioning is not only allowed but encouraged. Teach students to ask probing questions about the material they read, write, and the outputs of any generative AI tools they may have adopted to produce their work. Questions that challenge assumptions, explore alternative viewpoints, and dig deeper into the subject matter can significantly enhance students’ critical thinking skills. Questions can also help you, as an educator, to uncover misconceptions among students, which provides a means of formative assessment data that can be leveraged to improve future teaching and learning.

Immerse students in project-based learning

Presenting students with real-world problems can enhance their critical thinking skills by providing a practical and engaging context for applying knowledge. Students are asked to identify, analyze, and prioritize multiple variables, helping them to develop well-reasoned, evidence-based solutions. Real-world problems are also inherently engaging and relevant, increasing student motivation and enthusiasm for learning.

By integrating project-based learning in the form of real-world problems into the curriculum, educators create a dynamic learning environment that teaches critical thinking and prepares students for the complexities of real-world situations. Zhang and Ma ( 2023 ) found that “project-based learning significantly improved students’ learning outcomes and positively contributed to academic achievement, affective attitudes, and thinking skills, especially academic achievement.”

Integrate AI as supplementary aids

AI writing doesn’t have to mean academic misconduct. With practical strategies for embracing the challenge and also the potential that comes along with AI technology and writing, teachers can use AI as supplementary aids to enhance critical thinking and writing skills rather than replacements for traditional learning. For instance, students can use generative AI and AI paraphrasing tools to understand complex texts better, but they should also be encouraged to analyze and critique the AI's output. Writing for the Times Higher Education, science faculty member at Colorado State University, Urbi Ghosh , notes that, “AI technology helps to connect ideas, merging them to create stronger concepts and produce a wide range of ideas quickly.”

Can AI paraphrasing tools be used while upholding academic integrity?

While the use of AI paraphrasing tools poses challenges to academic integrity, there are situations where they can be employed ethically. For instance, these tools can be valuable aids for students and researchers in rephrasing complex ideas or improving the readability of their writing. When used appropriately, AI paraphrasing can complement original thought and enhance the overall quality of academic work.

However, it's crucial for users to understand the limitations and risks associated with AI paraphrasing. Simply relying on automated tools without a deep understanding of the content can lead to unintentional plagiarism or distortion of the original ideas. Therefore, it's essential for individuals to use AI paraphrasing tools responsibly, ensuring that they maintain transparency about the sources they are paraphrasing and accurately attribute ideas to their original authors .

Educators play a vital role in guiding students on the ethical use of AI paraphrasing and promoting a culture of academic integrity. By providing clear guidelines, offering resources for proper paraphrasing techniques , and encouraging critical thinking skills, educators can empower students to use AI paraphrasing tools effectively while upholding academic standards.

Overview: Encouraging critical thinking in an era of AI paraphrasing

In an era where generative AI can effortlessly generate text and AI paraphrasing tools can manipulate it, reinforcing the importance of critical thinking has become more crucial than ever in the education space.

Critical thinking is a cornerstone of effective decision-making, problem-solving, and ethical conduct and equips individuals with the ability to discern credible sources from unreliable ones, have a deeper understanding of complex information, and maintain intellectual independence. These skills are indispensable for ensuring the accuracy, originality, and integrity of our work. And educators play a pivotal role in this dynamic.

By promoting AI as a responsible learning resource rather than a crutch, teachers can cultivate an environment that prioritizes and develops critical thinking in the digital world. This not only prepares students for academic success but also for the complexities of real-world challenges, including their next steps into the workforce.

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Practical Things You Study in College

how is critical thinking important

Published: June 20, 2024

a female college student seated in a library and working on her college assignment

College is a transformative time where you gain not only academic knowledge but also essential skills that will benefit you in the real world. The process of learning new skills or improving existing ones to advance in your current role or prepare for new opportunities is known as “upskilling.”

a female college student giving a presentation in a conference hall

Upskilling can involve gaining deeper knowledge in a specific area, acquiring new technical abilities, or enhancing soft skills such as communication and leadership. College is an excellent place to upskill because it provides a structured environment where students can access a wide range of resources and learning opportunities. 

Whether you’re a traditional student fresh out of high school or a non-traditional student returning to education, the skills you develop in college are crucial. Below, we’ll take a closer look at the skills you will learn while earning a college degree.

Why Should I Upskill in College?

The benefits of upskilling are numerous. For employees, it can lead to increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, and better career advancement opportunities. Upskilling can also make you more adaptable to changes within your industry, thus future-proofing your career. 

Employers value candidates who demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning and continuous improvement, as these individuals are better equipped to drive innovation and contribute to organizational growth. By acquiring additional skills during your college years, you position yourself as a versatile asset in the workforce. This combination of academic achievement and practical expertise makes you more attractive to potential employers and sets the stage for a successful and rewarding career.

While earning your college degree, you will have the opportunity to master both technical and soft skills. Technical skills refer to specific, teachable abilities required for particular tasks, often involving specialized training from your major program of study. Soft skills are interpersonal attributes like communication and teamwork that are essential for effective collaboration and problem-solving in the workplace. Employers look for college students with a solid mix of technical and soft skills when recruiting for jobs.

What Are the Best Technical Skills to Learn in College?

Technical skills are specific abilities or knowledge required to perform specialized tasks within your job sector. Choosing a college major that delivers the appropriate technical skills for your career aspirations is critical. 

Business management, computer science, and health science are among the most popular majors to study in college due to their relevance and demand in the modern workforce. 

Business Management Skills

Business management programs offer technical skills in areas such as financial analysis, project management, and strategic planning, preparing students for leadership roles in diverse industries. 

Computer Science Skills

Computer science is a powerhouse for upskilling, providing in-depth knowledge of software development, algorithms, and network security, making graduates highly sought after in the tech industry. 

Health Science Skills

Health science delivers technical skills related to healthcare practices, medical technologies, and patient care, essential for those aiming to advance in the medical field. These majors not only provide a solid foundation in their respective fields but also offer numerous opportunities for continuous learning and professional growth.

a male college student holding his laptop in his hands, happy to be learning many practical skills in his program

What Are the Best Soft Skills to Learn in College?

The best skills to learn in college are soft skills, including critical thinking, communication, and time management. Mastering these skills will enable you to succeed both academically and professionally. Below, we’ll take a closer look at these soft skills and how you can improve them.

Critical Thinking

One of the most important skills to develop is critical thinking, which involves analyzing information, evaluating evidence, and making reasoned decisions. Critical thinking is crucial not only for success in school but also for navigating complex real-world issues. This skill is particularly valued by employers, as it demonstrates an individual’s ability to handle challenging situations and make informed decisions in the workplace. 

Your mastery of critical thinking will come from active engagement with your course material. You can hone your observational skills, ask questions to deepen your understanding and break complex problems into smaller parts.

Communication

Another essential skill to learn in college is effective communication . This includes both verbal and written communication, which are vital for collaborating with peers, presenting ideas, and writing reports or research papers. Good communication skills enable students to express their thoughts clearly and persuasively. Furthermore, strong communication skills facilitate better teamwork and collaboration, as students learn to listen actively, provide constructive feedback, and work together towards common goals. 

To improve your communication skills, focus on both verbal and written communication. Participate in group projects and presentations to practice speaking clearly and confidently. Enhance your writing by organizing your thoughts logically and using appropriate grammar and vocabulary. Your college likely has a writing center that will assist you with composing reports and papers.

Time management

Time management is also a critical skill that students must master in college. Balancing coursework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and personal responsibilities requires effective time management strategies. Students who can prioritize tasks set realistic deadlines, and avoid procrastination are more likely to achieve their academic and personal goals. Employers look for candidates who can manage their time efficiently, as this skill directly impacts an individual’s ability to meet deadlines and handle multiple projects.

To refine your time management skills, set clear, achievable goals and prioritize your tasks based on deadlines and importance. Use tools like planners, calendars, or time management apps to organize your schedule and track your progress. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Allocate specific time slots for studying, attending classes, and participating in extracurricular activities. 

How Can I Improve My Study Skills While in College?

Improving your study skills while you are in college will help you achieve academic success. Good study habits, such as active recall, note-taking, self-explanation, and creating a study routine, can greatly enhance your ability to understand and retain complex information. 

Create a Study Routine

Establishing a consistent study routine helps to develop a habit of regular studying. It includes setting specific times for studying each day, breaking down study sessions into manageable chunks, and sticking to the schedule. A well-structured routine ensures that you cover all necessary material and maintain a balanced approach to your studies.

Practice Active Recall

Active recall is a study technique where you actively stimulate your memory during the learning process . Instead of passively reading or highlighting text, test yourself on the material to enhance your retention and understanding. This method helps to identify gaps in your knowledge and solidify your learning.

Take Effective Notes

Effective note-taking involves summarizing key concepts, ideas, and information during lectures or reading assignments. This skill helps you retain and comprehend the material better and provides a useful resource for review before exams. Good note-taking techniques include using bullet points, headings, and highlighting important information.

Use the Self-Explanation Technique

The self-explanation technique involves explaining the material you are studying in your own words, which helps deepen your understanding and retention of the subject. When you rephrase concepts and teach them to yourself or others, it forces you to process the information more thoroughly, identify gaps in your knowledge, and reinforce learning. 

As we have seen, mastering both technical skills and soft skills during your college years is crucial for standing out in today’s competitive job market. Employers increasingly seek candidates who not only possess the specialized knowledge required for specific roles but also demonstrate strong interpersonal abilities such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving . These skills combined make you more versatile and adaptable, enhancing your employability across various industries.

As you embark on your college journey, remember that developing these skills is an ongoing process that will serve you well beyond your academic years. By embracing these practices, you will be well-equipped to tackle challenges and seize opportunities in both your academic and professional endeavors.

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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Key-Leadership-Skills - IMD Business School

The 8 key leadership skills you need to know in 2024

Anyone can be placed in a leadership role, but  to be good and thrive in that position requires solid leadership skills . Leadership skills are typically at the top of the list of competencies that recruiters focus on when hiring, or when managers are promoted from within an organization.

Effective leadership skills are crucial, both in a professional and personal capacity and are vital in facilitating effective team dynamics, driving success, managing change, and promoting personal and professional development.

Some of the world’s largest companies hunt for people with well-honed leadership skills to fill their most sought after executive positions.

8 key leadership skills you need to know about:

  • Relationship building
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Employee motivation
  • Decision-making
  • Conflict management
  • Negotiation
  • Critical Thinking

1. Relationship building (the foundation of a high-performing team)

Some leaders will say they that they do not need to be loved in the workplace to succeed. This may be true, but to build a cohesive and more engaged team, great managers need the  leadership skills  to forge strong working relationships with their employees.

Leaders with strong, trusting and authentic relationships with their teams know that investing time in building these bonds makes them more effective as a leader, and creates a foundation for success.

Good working relationships increase employee engagement and according to Gallup’s meta-analysis of employee engagement, business units with good employee engagement have 41% fewer quality defects and 37% less absenteeism. A 21% increase in productivity was also seen to result from higher employee engagement.

So even if you think you don’t need to be loved in the workplace, you will definitely need to be skilled in building good relationships in order to be an  effective leader.  

If your team is highly engaged and happy in the workplace, you are likely to be well  respected as a leader  with employees who love what they do, and hopefully the strong relationships you cultivate will help your team perform at their highest level.

Tips for leaders to navigate relationships in the workplace »

2. Agility and adaptability (stay at the cutting edge as a leader)

In a study conducted by Development Dimensions International in 2008, one of the most important leadership qualities, was the ability to facilitate change. Fast-forward to 2024, adaptability is  one of the most important  leadership skills. 

Leaders need to contend with a hyper-competitive business environment, geo-politics, climate change, the changes advanced by the COVID-19 pandemic and many more factors, all of which require leaders to adapt and develop agility.

Effective leaders must be able to adapt to both internal, and external changes – even if that means working outside of your comfort zone. As a leader you need to develop a lifelong learning mentality to ensure that you are not left behind by shifts in your industry, and can give your business the competitive edge. This is where as a leader you need to be agile and adaptable, which is easier said than done.

One key way to develop  leadership agility and adaptability  is to be accountable and assume your responsibilities, making sure that you have laid out a plan on how you should respond to change.

This plan should contain an achievable timeline, allowing you to constantly check your progress on how well you are adapting to the change and how you are exemplifying this to your team.

Read IMD article on agile leadership in an age of digital disruption »

3. Innovation and creativity (learn to push your boundaries)

Innovation in leadership  is of utmost importance for every company. Successful innovation begins with ideation — the phase where outstanding ideas are developed and become the foundation of innovation success.

Consider some of the industry leaders, what did it take for Apple to become a leader technology industry? They made innovations to products with their customers in mind.

Steve Jobs, and perhaps even more so Tim Cook led the innovation and creativity for Apple Inc. by continuously forging ahead of the competition, and this probably made them some of the most  innovative leaders  within the tech industry.

The increasing demand for creativity and innovation will continue to be a driving force for executives, as  who must harness their leadership skills in these areas to be effective and competitive.

 - IMD Business School

4. Employee motivation (improve engagement and efficiency)

In close connection with relationship building, the ability to  motivate your workforce  is as important as keeping employee engagement high. One of the most effective  leadership skills  is knowing how to continuously motivate employees, which requires leaders to be connected to their teams and attentive to what is going on around them.

In a study done by the firm Interact on 10,000 employees in the US which cited that the number 1 complaint (63%) from employees concerning their managers is lack of appreciation, and, conversely, when managers appreciate their contribution, their engagement increases by 60%.

In another study by Westminster College, it was found that boosting morale is the top (32%) motivational technique employees prefer. If employees are not motivated, the company can be negatively affected (financially) with absenteeism, attrition and low productivity.

Motivated employees are much more engaged, they are also more self-confident in what they do, and can do. This leads them to know how to react in difficult situations and develop innovative ideas that could help optimize business performance.

5. Decision-making (leading with conviction)

A leader is tasked with making decisions all the time. To be an effective leader, those  decision making skills  need to be top notch. Critical decisions affecting your organization on a large scale need to be sound, rational and solid.

In reality, your decisions as a leader will determine your – and potentially your organization’s – success. Making decisions, however big or small, are a fundamental part of Leadership, as a leader you need to develop strong decision-making skills and have the conviction to  stand by your decisions,  whilst also recognizing the need to adapt when those decisions do not lead to the desired outcome. It is a unique balancing act.

Remember, some decisions may not always be favorable. Making an unpopular but necessary decision is probably one of the most difficult tasks as a leader, but it is vital that as a leader you are able to recognize your responsibilities and make clear decisions for your team or organization.

📝 Try an exercise for better decision making »

6. Conflict management (keeping the peace)

According to the American Management Association, managers spend at least 24% of their time managing conflict. Conflict can happen in any area of business.

A conflict is considered to be any issue between two or more individuals that can potentially disrupt work. Conflict in business may go beyond the workplace as it can involve customers, suppliers and even competitors.

When a conflict arises, an  effective leader  should be able to jump in and resolve or at least mitigate the conflict before it affects the business negatively. When properly dealt with, a conflict may even turn out to be positive for your organization, as it can often lead to stronger bonds or new ideas.

To be effective as a leader, you must be good at identifying conflict, and have foresight on how to resolve it. It is also essential to be rational when faced with confrontation. Conflict management is no doubt one of the most important leadership competencies but Robyn Short cited a study that found 60% of U.S. employees have not received any conflict management skills training.

As a leader, it is important that you are able to manage conflict, but developing these same skills in your team can help avoid conflict altogether.

How to manage conflict: Six essentials from a former FBI hostage negotiator »

7. Negotiation (winning the game)

Negotiation is a process where two parties with different ideals get together and mutually agree on what an outcome should be. According to Skills You Need, the process of negotiation involves 6 stages:

  • Preparation
  • Clarification of goals
  • Negotiation towards a Win-Win outcome
  • Implementation of a course of action

Good negotiations can be beneficial to an organization because they will build better relationships, both internally and externally. They will also help find the best long-term solution by getting the most out of two different sides. An effective leader must be well versed in his negotiation style to move an organization forward.

As a leader, negotiation is used to understand the interests of your employees and to find ways of satisfying those interests, in order to achieve organizational goals.

Tips on using negotiation to achieve positive outcomes »

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8. Critical Thinking (understand the links between ideas)

Leading a business is unquestionably challenging. To be successful, a leader must make a lot of difficult decisions, often under pressure. Research by the Brandon Hall Group shows that  critical thinking  is the most important skill required of leaders to successfully lead an organization.

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly, whilst building a logical connection between different ideas. Critical thinkers are often intelligent decision makers, highly analytical and generally always rational. Critical thinking is a learned skill, and generally involves three steps:

Step 1 – Frame

Complex problems are rarely what they appear to be on first look. To better understand what you are dealing with, frame the problem by asking yourself “What is my problem?” Hint: you can safely assume that whatever you think your problem is right now probably isn’t your actual problem.

Step 2 – Explore

Do not rely on intuition. No matter how much faith you have in your own judgment, if you rely strictly on your instincts you will miss the opportunity to see things from an alternative perspective. Instead, explore potential solutions. That is, ask yourself “How may I solve my problem?” It is equally important to explore what matters to you; that is, the various attributes of a solution that would make it more attractive to you.

Step 3 – Decide

In most cases, one solution isn’t consistently superior to all others on all attributes. To make your decision, answer your question, “How should I solve my problem?” Surface the trade-offs for each solution, identifying what you are ready to give away that you value so that you can get a little more of something else that you value even more.

Frame, explore, decide, or FrED, for short. For most complex problems, your understanding of the problem changes as you progress through the analysis. The three steps aren’t so much a linear sequence as they are elements of an iterative loop. Do not hesitate to revise previous conclusions as new evidence surfaces.

Typically,  critical thinkers will rigorously question ideas and assumptions, they will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the true picture and are commonly able to recognize inconsistencies and errors in reasoning to achieve the desired outcome.

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Some topics you might be interested in, the importance of soft skills training for employees.

In the modern business environment, personal development and the enhancement of soft skills are essential for both individuals and organizations. Soft skills, also known as power skills, include critical thinking, problem solving, public speaking, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and career management. These competencies are crucial across all professions and significantly impact both personal and organizational success. This article explores the advantages of soft skills training for employees and its contribution to enhanced performance and business growth.

Why Soft Skills Training Matters

Boosted employee performance.

Training in soft skills equips employees with the necessary tools to communicate, collaborate, and lead effectively. Programs that focus on these skills enhance interpersonal interactions and overall productivity. Employees with strong problem-solving  and critical thinking capabilities are better decision-makers, leading to more efficient operations and innovative solutions.

Enhanced Leadership Abilities

For employees aspiring to management positions, leadership soft skills are indispensable. Training in areas such as team management, conflict resolution, and strategic thinking helps develop strong leaders. Effective leadership not only boosts team performance but also fosters a positive work environment, increasing employee satisfaction and retention.

Higher Employee Engagement and Retention

Investing in the development of soft skills demonstrates to employees that their growth is valued, which boosts engagement. Employees who feel supported in their professional development are more likely to stay with their employer, reducing turnover. Additionally, soft skills training provides tools for better career management, helping employees advance within the organization.

Benefits for Organizations

Improved business reputation.

Organizations that prioritize soft skills training are seen as progressive and employee centric. This reputation attracts top talent and enhances the company's market standing. Employees with strong communication and leadership skills are more likely to provide excellent customer service and drive business growth.

Enhanced Team Dynamics

Soft skills training promotes effective collaboration and cooperation. Employees trained in this area work more cohesively, have better presentation skills , reduce conflict, and improve project outcomes. Teams that communicate well and understand each other's strengths and weaknesses are more productive and efficient.

Increased Adaptability to Change

In today's rapidly changing business landscape, adaptability is crucial. Soft skills training prepares employees to handle change and challenges effectively. Whether adapting to new technologies or shifting market conditions, employees with robust soft skills navigate transitions smoothly, ensuring continuous business operations.

Investing in soft skills training is a strategic move for any organization aiming for maximum potential and sustainable success. By enhancing employees' abilities in leadership, communication, and teamwork, organizations can create a more productive and positive work environment.

SGS offers comprehensive soft skills training solutions, ensuring both individuals and organizations thrive in today's competitive market. Invest in your employees' future and elevate your business with professional soft skills training from SGS. Transform your workforce and reach new heights of success. Contact us today to learn more about our training programs and how they can benefit your organization.

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