Critical thinking

  • The term ‘critical thinking’ is used a lot in UK Higher Education, but it can be hard to define, as it isn’t just a single skill. ‘Critical thinking’ covers a series of processes that we use to ensure we have good reasons to support our arguments. Critical thinking is best thought of as having a questioning outlook on life, and not accepting any reasons at face value without first asking, ‘What do I think about this?’ and then most importantly, ‘Why do I think this?’

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    Everyday questioning

    Critical thinking is something we do everyday. If you are sceptical about adverts or people trying to sell you something, you’re a critical thinker! Watch this short animation to see how this everyday questioning relates to your academic work:

    Is the argument supported?

    An important part of critical thinking is being able to judge how strong people’s arguments are. Watch this video explaining how to see if an argument’s claims support its conclusion:

    So what?

    Thinking critically is more than just presenting at the pros and cons of a position. You have to do something with this information and come to your own judgement about it. Look at this model which uses questions to move you from just analysing ‘why’ to then judging ‘so what?’

    Description vs. being critical

    People are often concerned that their writing is too descriptive and not critical enough. Have a look at these examples which show the difference:

    And see this short video showing how you can build on your description and understanding to get to the higher levels of critical analysis and evaluation:

    Tolerating uncertainty

    Part of being a critical thinker is being able to examine your own beliefs and not rushing to find an absolute ‘right’ answer. Thinking critically takes time. Watch this video looking at why it is best not to leap to flawed conclusions just because you can’t tolerate the ambiguity of not knowing: