Critical Thinking Skills: Let’s Think About Thinking
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Duration: 6 weeks, self-placed
What Are Critical Thinking Skills?
To think critically means to think about someone’s thinking. It also means to ask questions about how someone came up with a talking point (i.e., a claim). There are many ways you can begin to critically think about discussions you may have or have had with a friend. The first step is to know the many flaws one may have when making their claim(s).
Critical Thinking Errors
Appeal to authority: someone may say that a well-known person, or many people in general, share the same argument as them. This is used as support for their claim. Just because a claim is made, it does not mean it is true.
Argument selectivity: this happens when someone picks the best support for their claim. Watch for people who “cherry-pick” support for their argument.
Circular reasoning: this is when the main point or the conclusion of an argument is used to support the argument. This mainly happens when there are not a lot of facts for the argument.
Cognitive bias: people who stick to their own views, even when other views better support an argument, take part in cognitive bias.
Correlation, not causation: just because two things happen together, does not mean that they cause each other. Think about lightning and rain; they both happen at the same time, but they do not cause each other.
Jumping to conclusions: people may take on a view about something after only a few facts. This often happens when one does not consider views different from their own. Make sure to question or test the support leading up to a conclusion. This leads to much better arguments than questioning the conclusion itself.
Overgeneralizing: when someone thinks something true for one thing is true for all. For example, if someone says, “all birds fly,” this is simply not true. Many birds, such as penguins, do not fly.
Intuitive Versus Analytical Thinking
Let’s say you spend $1.10 for a bat and a ball at a sports store. When looking at the price of each item, you realize the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. Do you know how much the ball costs?
If you said the ball costs 10 cents, this is what many people say. It just makes sense, right? After all, you followed your intuition.
But if you said 5 cents, then congrats! This was the right answer. It may have taken a bit more time, but this is what it means to think analytically.
Thinking critically means you take a moment to think about your thoughts. You work through problems to come up with an answer, instead of just blurting it out.
Analytical thinking can help you think critically as long as you take the time and effort to do so. But do not be let down if you used your intuition to solve the riddle above. Gut feelings are honed to allow us to make snap decisions in life, which mostly turn out to be positive.
Strategies to Help You Think Critically and Build Analytical Skills
Take the time to focus: Pay attention to what others say. The best way to build critical thinking skills is to be a good listener. Concentrating on what one has to say can help you understand the logic needed to give a great answer. This can also help you understand their point of view. If you are reading, take the time to make a summary of the info in your own words. This will test whether you grasped the info or not.
Base claims in the evidence: Make sure you do not take opinion as fact. If someone makes a claim outright, make sure you follow up and ask for evidence. Also, look for evidence that may go against what the person is saying. It is likely they are not talking about this evidence because it goes against their views, which may very well be opinion only.
Ask yourself questions and see if you can answer them: This strategy may come in handy when reading. When reading something new that you are trying to learn about, take a moment after each paragraph or major point. Write down a summary of what you just read. Then, ask a question about what you just read…can you answer it? If so, what is the answer? This can lead you to thought-provoking situations. It can also help you deeply learn about new material, which is helpful in school settings.
Become a Master Thinker
- Analysis: this helps you pick out the key parts of an argument, like the main facts involved and where those facts are coming from.
- Evaluation: once you analyze the facts and resources, this allows you to assess the value of these factors. For example, is the resource credible? Is it a well-known fact?
- Inference: finally, after analyzing and evaluating, do you have the information needed to make or infer, a final conclusion about an argument?
These three characteristics can help you become a master thinker. Aside from the tips here, you can also try some of the courses at Epsychonline to aid you in building your analytical and critical thinking skills!