How to improve critical thinking skills
Critical thinking ability is very important both in everyday life and in learning, but people rarely get to study it properly. Colleges and school teach students facts and concepts, but they rarely teach them to operate with these facts. Operating is not retelling; it is seeing connections between them, how one causes another, how processes are interrelated or not related at all, and many more actions going beneath the surface of facts and ideas.
As you probably have guessed, you can apply this skill in every situation in life, you can avoid fake news and found solutions to live through hard times. But unfortunately, most probably you were never taught this skill. Now it is high time to fill this dramatic gap in your education.
Why critical thinking is important
You may think that if it is not taught in school, it is not necessary for life. But most crucial skills are not taught in schools, and you have to master them on the go. Critical thinking skills will help you to complete successfully essay writing tasks at college or university because there you cannot retell and get a good mark. You need to evaluate, analyze, and give your own verdict on something. These skills will help you in your future career, where you will find new opportunities, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and decide how to use them best for your company’s benefit. These skills will help you through your life since you will make hundreds of decision every day. And whenever you avoid purchasing the thing out of hype and think twice before taking a loan with high-interest rates, you will exercise your new thinking tool.
Tips for developing critical thinking skills
Happily, as every skill, this one can be learnt as well. The path is not that easy, but for those who are persistent and want it really hard, there is nothing impossible. There exist different strategies of developing critical thought, but basically, it is all about being careful with the information you get and asking the right questions. Below are some most useful and working steps of critical thinking.
Become a self-critic
To think critically, you first need to know how your own mind works. If you have biases and inherent beliefs that are ungrounded, you will have difficulties in assessing the beliefs and thoughts of others. You will not compare them to objective facts. Instead, you will measure them against your own biases and discard even the most reasonable ideas if you do not like them because of your own views.
This path of reviewing and understanding your own mode of thinking is called self-reflection, and these skills will be of use to you in many areas of life. How to do self-reflection? Ask yourself questions, just like you would ask anyone else. Mind that this exercise is very useful for writing a reflection paper as well. Ask yourself:
What do I believe or think about this specific issue? Why do I think so? Did my family hold this opinion? Did school or college teach me that? Do I follow the common opinion without giving it a second thought? Do I hold this opinion because I know that facts and practice support it? Do I find it in the daily media that look for sensations? What does modern science have to say about it? Do I take it emotionally? Am I neutral about this issue? Why?
When you first apply critical thinking skills to your own thinking process, you will find out what are facts and what are your personal layers of emotions and opinions. From this standpoint, you are ready to evaluate both your beliefs and beliefs of others. You can tell now what is media hype, what is urban legends, and what is actual science. But without getting to know your own biases and distortions of thinking you will have a distorted opinion of beliefs of others since you will measure them against your own subjective views, not against the actual state of affairs.
When you know what biases you have, you will realize why you react to an issue in such a way, and why you should adjust your own perception of it.
When you got your own objective starting point, you are ready to collect and process information. Under processing, we usually understand analysis and synthesis. In other words, you take some piece of information apart and see what bits are true and what are not. This is analysis. Then you take reliable pieces and put them together to see a whole picture. This is synthesis. Looks simple.
But how on earth you go about analysis? There are many things and phenomena in the world, and what applies to one thing cannot be applied to another. Hence, you should know what questions to pose in various cases. Keep in mind the following templates and use them to improve critical thinking.
To analyze changes in something:
- What is the origin of this? How did it begin?
- What were the causes?
- What are the consequences?
- How was this transformed into that (and why)?
- How did this become a trigger or a cause for that?
To evaluate something:
- How does this compare to that?
- Is this better or worse than that? Or than a previous state of affairs?
- Can I defend this? Can I refute this?
- What went wrong with this?
- Why did this fail or succeed?
Evidence and reasoning on the topic:
- What is the brightest example?
- What are the pros and cons (be sure to differentiate between scientific and emotional arguments)?
- Is evidence sufficient and reliable?
- Is the source reliable and unbiased?
- What flows from it?
- What information is missing?
Different Points of View
Critical thinking is a challenging task in that it may ask you to question your own beliefs. To apply critical thinking skills, you have to learn to doubt your own expertise, and this usually hurts. But when you doubt your own views, you automatically admit that there is a different view on the matter. Thus you arrive at the point where you are ready to consider different points of view and evaluate them carefully, not just wave them aside because they are wrong by default.
When you are psychologically ready to listen to or read differing points of view, you can go deeper and try to understand why these views are the way they are. You can find out why people think so, where they take information from, how they process it. You can see if this view is just a view or it is a guideline for actions and has specific consequences, whether positive or negative ones. Maybe the differing viewpoint is just a hive mind opinion without foundation. Or maybe it is a plausible and reasonable assumption that is superior to yours. In any case, you cannot arrive at an objective conclusion if you do not evaluate different views and evaluate them without personal biases or preferences.
Read Good Books
When you look at the titles that are usually advertised as bestsellers of the week, you see thrillers, detectives or melodramatic narratives. It is OK to read these books for relaxation or to kill time while commuting. But books that do help you to think critically rarely get on popular lists.
This is why if you want a book to be more than just a time filler, pick books from the famous literary award lists like Pulitzer or Booker, or reading lists of known writers and poets. A literary award does not mean that a book is boring or very complex. To the contrary – it popularizes books that will otherwise live on dusty bookshelves as ‘highbrow stuff’ instead of being read and understood. Or else, pick books reviewed in literary magazines or at least in reputable newspapers. You may stumble upon a real treasure that will highlight aspects of life and world that you never considered – and so will help you think more accurately and critically of things you usually take for granted. Such books do not offer chip action plot or thrilling secrets. But they offer valuable lessons in thinking and being curious, in questioning basic things that turn out to be not so basic and 'normal' or 'usual'.
Finally, get your hands on books that specifically tell how to develop critical thinking skills and what it means to be critical and to evaluate information. To name but a few, we at Cosmoessay.com recommend authors Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely, M. Neil Browne, as well as Carl Sagan, Carol Tavris, Ben Goldacre, Daniel K. Levitin. Their writing is a keyhole into the world of thinking as a process with its steps and tricks, and these authors share these tricks generously.
We hope that now you are more secure about using an element of critical approach in your life and writing. But since you have little practice, you may need a little help along the way. Writers of Cosmoessay will be happy to lend you a hand. They have great expertise in critical and creative strategies and thoughts. This is why if you get the paper from one of them, you will impress your instructor and get a very good grade. You will also see a cool example of how this skill can be applied, and how you can apply it in the future.