How to apply critical thinking in learning

Sometimes your university classes might feel like a maze of information. Consider critical thinking skills like a map that can lead the way.

Why do we need critical thinking?  

Critical thinking is a type of thinking that requires continuous questioning, exploring answers, and making judgments. Critical thinking can help you: 

  • analyze information to comprehend more thoroughly
  • approach problems systematically, identify root causes, and explore potential solutions 
  • make informed decisions by weighing various perspectives 
  • promote intellectual curiosity and self-reflection, leading to continuous learning, innovation, and personal development 

What is the process of critical thinking? 

1. Understand  

Critical thinking starts with understanding the content that you are learning.

This step involves clarifying the logic and interrelations of the content by actively engaging with the materials (e.g., text, articles, and research papers). You can take notes, highlight key points, and make connections with prior knowledge to help you engage.

Ask yourself these questions to help you build your understanding:  

  • What is the structure?
  • What is the main idea of the content?  
  • What is the evidence that supports any arguments?
  • What is the conclusion?

2. Analyze  

You need to assess the credibility, validity, and relevance of the information presented in the content. Consider the authors’ biases and potential limitations in the evidence. 

Ask yourself questions in terms of why and how:

  • What is the supporting evidence?  
  • Why do they use it as evidence?   
  • How does the data present support the conclusions?  
  • What method was used? Was it appropriate?  

 3. Evaluate   

After analyzing the data and evidence you collected, make your evaluation of the evidence, results, and conclusions made in the content.

Consider the weaknesses and strengths of the ideas presented in the content to make informed decisions or suggest alternative solutions:

  • What is the gap between the evidence and the conclusion?  
  • What is my position on the subject?  
  • What other approaches can I use?  

When do you apply critical thinking and how can you improve these skills?   

1. Reading academic texts, articles, and research papers

  • analyze arguments
  • assess the credibility and validity of evidence
  • consider potential biases presented
  • question the assumptions, methodologies, and the way they generate conclusions

2. Writing essays and theses

  • demonstrate your understanding of the information, logic of evidence, and position on the topic
  • include evidence or examples to support your ideas
  • make your standing points clear by presenting information and providing reasons to support your arguments
  • address potential counterarguments or opposing viewpoints
  • explain why your perspective is more compelling than the opposing viewpoints

3. Attending lectures

  • understand the content by previewing, active listening, and taking notes
  • analyze your lecturer’s viewpoints by seeking whether sufficient data and resources are provided
  • think about whether the ideas presented by the lecturer align with your values and beliefs
  • talk about other perspectives with peers in discussions