Defining critical thinking and classifying “levels” of critical thinking is a curious endeavor. Critical thinking in its purest sense grapples with the preoccupations of how we use our mind to approach the world around us. It involves such things as comprehension, evaluation, judgment, creativity, decision making, and problem solving. Critical thinking is meant to evolve and relies on logic and reason. Yet, a few conversations with different people will make it apparent that critical thinking is not the same for everyone and sometimes, the evolutionary process has abruptly halted -- leading some critical analysts to examine and conclude different levels of critical thinking.

Thinking as a Hobby

One such critical analyst is William Golding, the famous author of “Lord of the Flies.” Mr. Golding arrived at his conclusion of different levels of critical thinking as a child, culminating in an essay titled “Thinking as a Hobby.” In that essay, Mr. Golding divides levels of critical thinking into grades: Grade 3, Grade 2 and Grade 1.

Grades of Critical Thinking

Grade 3: Mr. Golding states that grade three is filled with “prejudice, hypocrisy and ignorance.” He goes on to compare it to a business man’s golf, a politicians intent or as “coherent as most books that get written.” Grade 3 is really feeling rather than thought.

Grade 2: At this level, the thinker has made progress because he can “detect contradictions.” The problem, a grade two thinker doesn’t act, but rather he criticizes without offering solutions; he “destroys without having the power to create.”

Grade 1: This is where the thinker has arrived. The contradictions detected are only the beginning. Mr. Golding uses Pontius Pilate as an example with his question “What is truth.” Pontius Pilate asked the question, but gave no answer. A “grade 1” thinker asks the question and then sets out to find the answer.

Higher Order Thinking Skills

In the educational environment, the development of critical thinking skills is crucial if educational institutions are to graduate students with critical thinking abilities that can solve real-world problems in a consistent manner. The Florida State University Center for Advancement of Learning and Assessment, proposes there are three interconnected levels of critical thinking, each higher level depending on the lower levels. The three levels include prerequisites, bridges and higher order thinking.

Levels to Higher Order Thinking

Level 1—Prerequisites: At this level it is important for the student to develop a solid foundation that leads to the highest level of critical thinking. At this level developing healthy attitudes, flexibility, risk tolerance, a disciplined mind, and multiple intelligences (linguistics, mathematics, musical for examples) are important.

Level 2—Bridges: At this level it is important for students to learn how to apply the prerequisites to new learning situations. Students at this level must broaden their knowledge by relating concepts to one another and learn to use these relations to develop rules used in higher critical thinking.

Level 3 – Higher Order Thinking: This is where the student demonstrates he can use his prerequisites to develop relationships with a wide range of concepts (such as interdisciplinary study) and leverage those relationships to find solutions to problems. This includes the ability to plan thinking, self-monitor progress in thinking and demonstrating the ability to make adjustments where required.