Thinking Critically

The rules of chess can be taught quickly. In 10 or 15 minutes one can learn how all the pieces move, the goal of the game, and begin to play. However, knowing how to play chess is different from being a Grand Master – that takes years. So too with critical thinking. Its basic qualities can be understood quickly, but learning how to incorporate these into your daily life, and gain the benefit, is a process which takes time to learn. To continue the original metaphor, this article will give you the rules of chess, but is only one small step on your way to becoming a Grand Master (of Critical Thinking).

It is best to begin with acknowledging that there are many definitions of critical thinking, all differing slightly depending on the broader point the author is trying to make. Without becoming entangled in all of these, let’s start with the things they tend to share. Qualities required to think critically are:

  • Listening actively: This is listening “beyond the words” using the verbal and non-verbal cues to ascertain the deeper meaning. It also means asking the questions necessary to gain understanding.
  • Evaluating the evidence: A major component of thinking critically is judging the nature of the information you are receiving. Is the source reliable? Where is it from? Is it a primary or secondary source? Is there a better source from which more information can be gained? Is the information it provides fact or opinion?
  • Finding bias: Almost all information which is not mathematical has some form of bias. In this case, bias is supporting or opposing one view over another. When identified, bias is not necessarily bad. However, it is when there is a claim that there is no bias that you should be on your guard and look deeper into the argument provided.
  • Balance: Taking into account other viewpoints (especially those you don’t agree with) can lead to a greater understanding of why another person would hold those views. Depending on the nature of the argument, opposing viewpoints may have equal validity. It takes a bit of humility to understand that a belief which is opposed to yours can still be “right”
  • Reaching conclusions: The point of all of this is to render some form of judgement, even if the judgement is personal. In terms of university life, you may be evaluating the argument presented by an author or attempting to present your own. In both cases, the argument should stand up to critical examination, be supported by relevant evidence, and the conclusion should be a logical outcome.

While on the surface this all may seem like a combination of Jedi and Spock, it is simply a way of evaluating the world around us. It is very much related to the scientific method as a structured way of conducting an investigation or experiment, critical thinking allows us to evaluate a wider variety of data and reach an informed conclusion. In the university setting, it is a tool to master the emotional thinking and opinion which often guide us in childhood, and provide a means to deal with new information. Universities, by their nature, are meant to advance learning. This can only be done in a systematic and structured manner, as free (as possible) from opinion and concerned only with relevant fact and rational conclusion.

So after 500 words are you ready to start thinking critically? Probably not. The goal here is to give the smallest of introductions into a skill which you will be expected, to some degree, master.

This takes time and effort, but making a start will set you on your way to higher grades.

Copyright Ⓒ Juvenis Maxime 2023

Author: Kenneth Knox