How to Increase Your Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills can be acquired and sharpened with deliberate practice.
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Attributed to the ancient scholar Socrates, critical thinking is the act of questioning accepted ideas by seeking evidence and examining all sides of an issue. In order to increase critical thinking skills, learn to recognize biased viewpoints and persuasive arguments that influence your reasoning power. Retraining yourself as a thinker is possible in much the same way an athlete prepares for improved physical performance -- with attention to technique and specific practice.

1 How Critical Thinking Works

People bring prior knowledge to most issues. Critical thinkers add to this knowledge and consider other sides before taking a position. A person exercising critical thinking skills looks at the issue, considers the problem, examines evidence from all sides, takes action and looks back to consider the outcome. For example, you might read that a coal mining company claims that switching to solar energy is too costly and ineffective to implement in your community. Before accepting this statement without question, take note of who is promoting this idea and then seek information from opposing or competitive energy providers. Listing the financial and environmental considerations of solar and wind power in contrast to coal burning is a pragmatic, systematic way to align the facts for clear examination. Only after this deliberate consideration of each power source can you decide how to form an opinion based on all of the accumulated evidence.

2 Recognize Assumptions

Begin to think critically by recognizing bias. Favoring one position over another is an obstruction when considering different ways to approach an issue. A critical thinker recognizes his assumption that solar energy is a low cost power source but looks deeper to discover whether it is, in fact, less expensive to develop a large supply of solar panels rather than mine existing coal deposits. This habit of thinking can be practiced and acquired. Challenge your first thought with this immediate line of questioning: where did I get that idea, and is it actually true?

3 Questioning

Critical thinkers are open to many ways of seeing things in order to understand the situation. One tool for developing heightened critical thinking is to examine an issue through questions. Socratic teaching, the oldest method for encouraging critical thinkers is based on the premise of examining questions, not merely seeking answers. By probing deeply with questions before coming to a conclusion, you increase your receptiveness to deeper reasoning without judgement.

4 Actions and Alternatives

Strive to interpret information from the differing sources and lay aside prior assumptions. Critical thinkers "try on" varying solutions, playing out the results to hypothetical conclusions. Reframe situations with revised perspectives as clearly and specifically as possible. Pose questions without requiring immediate answers. With the discipline to reserve judgement and consider many aspects of at least one issue, you can develop a deeper and more deliberate way of viewing the world as a critical thinker.

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.