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Student Learning Success Guides!

CRITICAL THINKING is a set of skills that helps you analyze and evaluate ideas and issues objectively. Relying only on your own experience and opinions is not enough when you enter into a scholarly debate or conversation. In an academic environment, you will also have to evaluate and include the ideas and work of other scholars.

A worker comparing blueprint to electrical panelTIPS 

Pay attention to how you judge information: think about how you differentiate between an opinion stated as a fact and an actual fact.

The next time you read the news, question the bias behind the message: how might the author be slanting the details in support of a particular viewpoint?

Apply critical thinking skills to your own habits: do you always use the same approach simply because that's how you've always done it?
 

SELF-REFLECTION

How often do you accept what you are told without question?

Where do your opinions come from?

What are your own biases or prejudices?

Think about someone you consider a critical thinker: what qualities does that person have?

What "habits of mind" would you like to actively develop over the next year (clarity, logic, creativity)?

What is critical thinking?

When writing papers or solving problems, your feelings, beliefs, and opinions are not adequate resources because they could be influenced by conscious or unconscious biases.

“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” (Scriven & Paul, 1987).

When gathering information, either in a conversation or for a project, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the information trustworthy?
  • Is it verifiable?
  • Is it clearly stated?

How can you clarify your thinking?

In conversation, try these strategies:

  • Restate what the other person said as you understand it.
  • Ask yourself if you notice any flaws, weaknesses or inconsistencies in the information you have received, and then clarify this with the other person.

When reading, studying, or listening to a lecture, use these approaches:

  •   Look for key points and main ideas.
  •   Restate the points or ideas in your own words.
  •   Note any terms you don’t know, and then find out what they mean in that context.
  •   State one point or idea at a time; then give examples.
  •   Ask yourself how these points relate to other information you have gathered.
  •   Clarify any inconsistencies or contradictions by asking questions.

Tip: Try to connect the information or ideas to your own experiences to make them more relevant to you and easier to understand.

Are you writing a paper, creating a presentation, or solving a problem?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this information relevant to the topic or problem?
  • Is it clear how or why this information is related?
  • Are all relevant viewpoints included?
  • Does this example support what I am saying?
  • Do these data back up the claims I am making?

Answering "no" to any of these questions means you have to trim the content or improve it with better data or other sources.

Do you have a hidden or unconscious bias?

Ask yourself the following questions to uncover hidden or unconscious biases:

  • If your evidence is incomplete, are you asking the right questions?
  • Do you accept arguments or information as presented? 
  • Are your questions constructed to get the answer you want?
  • Do you assume your opinion is correct? In all situations? For all people?
  • Do you have anything other than personal experience to support your opinions?
  • Do you react emotionally when your opinions are questioned?
  • What questions are you avoiding, and why?

Tip:  Take a moment to reflect on the opposing viewpoint and try to understand the merit of one or two of its points.

 

Presentation content has been adapted from the Foundation for Critical Thinking page on Becoming a Critic Of Your Thinking