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ASC Success Strategies: Critical Thinking

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking involves looking closely at a question or problem in order to arrive at a logical solution. As a process, critical thinking forces individuals to acknowledge their assumptions and biases related to the question; gather information; evaluate that information; and then form an answer. As such, it is led by objectivity and reason, rather than emotion. 

Strategies for Building Critical Thinking

  • Cultivate a Healthy Skepticism.
    • Critical thinkers do not take information at face value or trust their gut reaction. They ask questions and investigate claims to determine if there is sufficient evidence. See The Critical Mind Is a Questioning Mind for a primer on the importance of questioning.
  • Be Open-Minded and Humble.
    • If you find information that undermines your values, you may be reluctant to give it credence. However, critical thinkers understand that they do not have all the answers. They seek out other perspectives and do not immediately discount information that contradicts their assumptions. 
  • Keep a Reflective Journal.
    • Critical thinkers are honest with themselves. They are quick to point out their own biases and understand how they may be influenced by their past experiences or feelings. To facilitate this honest reflection, keep a journal where you record your thoughts, values, and beliefs, and how they change as you encounter different people and situations. 
  • Follow the Critical Thinking Process.
    • When faced with a problem or question, work through the steps of the critical thinking process (described below). Once you have done so repeatedly, it will start to become second nature. For the first few times, you may want to write out the steps and your responses to the reflective questions for each step. 

 

Critical Thinking Process*

1) Select the problem or question you want to answer

2) Identify assumptions. An assumption—meaning something that you automatically accept as true, based on your upbringing, values, or beliefs—can be immediately apparent to you or hidden. To determine what these assumptions are, talk to others, view video programs, read texts, and freewrite in a journal on the problem or question. How you respond reveals your assumptions.   

  • Reflective questions for this step: 
    • What do I assume to be true about the problem?
    • What do I assume to be true about the people affected by the problem?
    • What do I assume to be the correct solution? 
    • Why?

3) Check accuracy and validity. At this stage in the process, conduct research to see if your assumptions are correct. The type of research depends on the type of problem you want to solve. For example, if you are completing an academic assignment, the “check accuracy and validity” step would involve searching in the Walden Library for journal articles addressing the problem. On the other hand, if you are making a decision about a career change, this step might include interviewing professionals in the new career, searching online for the current salary range, and meeting with a career counselor. No matter the type of research you are using, consider whether the source is trustworthy. 

  • Reflective questions for this step: 
    • What research can I do to test my assumptions?
    • Is this research credible? 
    • How does the research support or refute my assumptions?

4) Find alternative perspectives. This step is an extension of Step 3. Part of critical thinking is discovering perspectives that contradict or clash with your own. These perspectives can show how your original thinking was flawed or incomplete. To discover a true solution, it is important to investigate many different viewpoints during the research phase.   

  • Reflective question for this step: 
    • In what way(s) do I need to adjust my thinking? 

5) Take informed action. The next step in the process is to make a decision or pursue a solution, based on the thorough research you conducted.  

  • Reflective questions for this step:
    • What is the best course of action for this problem?
    • Why?

6) Analyze the action. After any decision or solution has been applied, it is a good idea to analyze that action to determine if it had the desired effect. 

  • Reflective questions for this step:
    • What were the results of the action? 
    • Were those results intended? If not, what were the flaws in my reasoning that may have led to an inappropriate action?
    • What about my thinking process do I need to change for next time?

*Adapted from Brookfield, S. (2007). Developing critical thinkers. Retrieved from https://www.mnsu.edu/grants/ipesl/Stephen%20Brookfield%20Mankato%20Pkt.pdf