CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS

A critical thinker is one who

1. ObservesOne must both look closely and remain open to hidden or unexpected explanations to think critically.  Observation involves close attention to both regularities and exceptional data.  Simple recall and comprehension (putting what is recalled in one’s own words) of what one sees are the first steps in critical thinking.

2. AnalyzesIn order to truly understand one must break down material into its component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood.  That is, analysis involves knowing the relationships between parts and recognizing the organizational principles that connect them.

3. Recognizes ambiguityAmbiguity means having two or more meanings.  Issues are often complex – complexity only emerges from confusion if one is willing to recognize ambiguity.

4. Accepts complexity. The critical thinker expects and tolerates uncertainty – the more complex an issue, system or process, the greater the uncertainty. Complex issues do not lend themselves to simple single-cause explanations. There are usually no easy answers to important issues or questions; issues in real life can rarely be simplified to right/wrong, yes/no, us/them, and so on.

5. Identifies assumptions & biasesAn assumption is something taken for granted by a thinker but often left unstated.  Since assumptions are not mentioned and thus not backed up with evidence, they offer insight into the validity of our own arguments as well as those of others.

6. Assumes perspective(s) of anotherConsider the phrase “walk a mile in their shoes.”  This implies a willingness to explore ideas contrary to one’s own beliefs and the ability to see problems and issues in a broader perspective than one’s own culture or interest group.

7. Adopts multiple perspectivesTo adopt multiple perspectives means to see a problem from many angles. There are as many perspectives as there are people, but several important categories include race, class, and gender.  Adopting multiple perspectives allows one to anticipate counter arguments and to address them even before one’s position is questioned.  Multiple perspectives can also lead one to reconsider one’s position.

8. SynthesizesSynthesis puts parts together to form a new whole.  It is the opposite of analysis.  Synthesis involves seeing connections among various and seemingly unrelated facts and experiences (e.g. different texts, different courses, different personal experiences or current events, etc.)  Creativity is an important part of synthesis, since the connections one finds may be original.

9. Recognizes biasA goal of critical thinking is fair mindedness.  One tests one’s own impressions in all ways possible.  Recognizing bias helps one to see their own assumptions and thus to reduce personal prejudice and to recognize it in others.

10. EvaluatesTo evaluate one must judge and to judge one must have definite criteria.  Such criteria may be internal (e.g., how effectively is the purpose or function of this process carried out?) or external (e.g. why might this process be of interest to someone? How does it compare to other works in its field?).
            (Kaldjian, adapted from work of James T. Hathaway, Slippery Rock University, PA)