Critical thinking might seem like a big way of talking about your problem solving skills, but it is so much more than that. It’s a different way of looking at problems or questions so you get the full picture before deciding what to do next.
How is critical thinking different to problem solving?
We often use the word ‘critical’ when we are talking about an emergency. But you can try out some critical thinking in any situation, not just emergencies!
Critical thinking is all about questioning information and thinking about it from different points of view. Look at all the information and all the different arguments before finding a solution, not just what seems easiest or what you most want to happen.
Think of yourself as a detective trying to get all the information and find a hole in a story.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is one of those topics stuffed with big words that make much more sense when we break them down. You will come across a lot of the ‘ings’ : researching, analysing, interpreting, evaluating, reasoning……
- Critical thinking is about making sense of information. Look at all the information available to you and make sure you understand it.
- Critical thinking is about making well reasoned arguments. Put all the information you have read into a balanced argument.
- Use evidence to support your arguments and ideas. Show you have used research and information to back up your arguments.
Critical thinking is a way of thinking about things. An important part of critical thinking is about showing you understand and can weigh up all your options before coming to your answer.
Why is critical thinking important?
We soak up so much information from so many different places. To avoid getting fooled by ‘fake news’ we have to be able to work out what statements are true and what people’s motives might be for telling you something. We have all been tricked by a misleading article title or been told which phone to buy because the sales person only has that one in stock, not because it’s right for us.
If we never question what we hear or look at other points of view we don’t make fair decisions.
Knowing all the information helps us to make more informed decisions but it also helps us to see things from different points of view. We do not have to all agree, but understanding why others think differently helps us to be more understanding. You can think about it the same way as when you see a story on social media – do you believe it straight away or do you think about whether it is 100% true, who might have written it and why?
Critical thinking for students
Essays will often require you to set out an argument and show your process for making a decision. When you are looking at a project you need to think: what does the information tell you, who disagrees, and why? What else might you need to know? This is critical thinking!
We can use critical thinking for some of the big questions in politics. We can use critical thinking to chew over big ideas like ‘university should be free for everyone’ or ‘nurses should all get paid double what they are being paid now’. With these statements you have to explore the reasons for and against, and find out if any experts or researchers have written or completed studies in what would happen if we did both of these things. You will build up an argument for both sides and make your decision based on what you have found.
Critical thinking in the workplace
Critical thinkers make better informed decisions, not quick decisions they might end up regretting.
Employers want employees who can look over information and make a balanced decision. You have to think about whether the answer is in a quick fix or whether what you choose will fix the problem for the long term. Good managers are able to understand a subject from all angles and will be better able to support a team of individuals with different views, so critical thinking skills are something you want to start working on if you have your sights set on being in charge.
Building your critcal thinking skills
- Do your research : think around the subject and read from different trusted places, sorry to break it to you but wikipedia isnt a reliable source. You need to be looking at who disagrees and who would do things differently. Is there any evidence of one particular thing working?
- Ask questions : never be afraid to ask questions. Start with the basics and also question what else you might need to know – do you have enough information to make a decision.
- Evaluate evidence – Think about what evidence is behind the different views and how valuable and trusted that evidence is.
Critical thinking exercise for young jobseekers
Imagine you’ve been offered the same job at two different companies and you need to decide which one to take. Think about what you need to know before making your choice.
- What do you need to research? How many different places can you get information from?
- How will you find information about both companies?
- How will you put together a reasoned arguments for both companies?
- What evidence will be available to you?
As you can see, critical thinking is a really useful everyday skill that we can use as part of our lives. It’s never too soon to start using critical thinking when you have a choice or decision to make!