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Thinking critically and why it is important

Posted on: September 2, 2020

What is critical thinking?

Before you began your university career, you may not have encountered the term ‘critical thinking’. You may be asking what it is and if it is something that applies to you. Should you be learning to think critically? And, if so, how do you learn to think in this way?

At its simplest, critical thinking is the process of thinking clearly and rationally about a subject. It takes a step back and looks logically at the ideas, asking questions about them and challenging accepted thought. By engaging in this kind of reflective thinking, you will find yourself developing new ideas and a new way of approaching the subject you are studying. You will no longer take things as they appear and will instead look deeper, ask new questions and find yourself understanding the topic at a much deeper level.

Critical thinking turns you from a passive class member into an active learner, someone who engages in what is being taught and questions it, rather than simply nodding along and memorising what you’re being told. You will find yourself challenging your own preconceived ideas, asking if the arguments around the subject are valid and if findings can be trusted.

Being able to think critically isn’t just useful at university, you will find it useful in your future career too.

a study group sit around a desk working and laughing

Why is critical thinking important?

You can see that critical thinking is useful but is it important? Is this a skill you need in order to succeed with your studies? Admittedly, some people are more instinctive critical thinkers than others, and there’s no doubt that plenty of people have gotten through their studies without becoming great critical thinkers. But if you want to get the most out of our course, to do the best you can (and to make the cost of your study worth it), you should want to develop all of the skills you can.

Beyond university life, critical thinking will help you with problem solving, allowing you to see links between issues and ideas. It will be helpful in all job roles, but more so in those that involving planning, strategizing, and project management. It will also help you argue your views, giving you the ability to build an argument and identify any errors in your own, or others’ thinking. 

How to develop your critical thinking skills

Where do you begin to develop your critical thinking skills? The first thing to do is to ask questions of the topics you are studying, the opinions being shared, or the ideas being proposed. Ask how this conclusion was reached. Is it valid? Are there any holes in the argument? Do you agree with what is being said and, whether you agree or not, why do you think that way?

a woman sits at a desk with a laptop

Challenge your own preconceived ideas, your instinctual responses – are your own opinions based on fact or are they just assumptions? We all have unconscious biases, prejudices that get in the way of thinking clearly and critically about things. When you start to challenge these prejudices, not only will you find yourself changing your opinions, you will be more open to new ideas and the opinions of others.

Read widely, not just the key texts on the reading list. Instead, dig deeper by reading the rest of the titles on the reading list, by exploring the subject in your university library, or by discussing it with course mates to hear others’ opinions. Remember though that critical thinking is not an argument, you are not seeking to be critical of others, rather to be critical of ideas by thinking more clearly and by challenging your own assumptions.

When you’re studying, surrounded by a world of new ideas and thoughts, it can be pretty easy to get lost in those thoughts and to lose track of your own thinking, allowing it to disappear amongst the mountain of information. By thinking critically, you can keep your head above the water, and learn to think clearly and develop your own opinions.