How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Thinking critically doesn't mean you're thinking harder or longer. It doesn't even mean you're necessarily critical. What are critical thinking skills, then, and how can we help improve them? This lesson takes a hard look at critical thinking.

What Are Critical Thinking Skills?

Have you ever solved a complex problem or engaged in a friendly debate with a friend? Even if your topic was 'Who is the best super hero?', you were using your critical thinking skills. Critical thinking uses all of our high-level thinking skills-- analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and reasoning--to guide thought, belief or action. We use these skills in our everyday lives (like when we defend Superman) and our academic lives to show how we solved a problem. With the push for students to think more critically these days, the development of critical thinking skills has received a lot of attention. But why does it matter? Let's take a look.

Why Does Critical Thinking Matter?

Whether you're aware of it or not, you're always thinking. Our brains are machines that don't turn off. Many of our thoughts are a stream of reactions--'that tastes good,' 'I like that shirt,' etc. But sometimes we're called on to be active thinkers, especially in academic situations. In school we're taught not only what to remember and understand, but also how to think. You may not have noticed your teachers doing this, but this style of instruction molds the type of thought necessary for critical thinking. If the teacher requires you to take notes from lectures and gives simple multiple choice tests, you are only being required, and therefore taught, to think on a low recall level. Teachers who ask many questions, interact with students during instruction and require them to defend their thinking are pushing for high-level thinking.

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