Critical Thinking

Critical thinking will make you a superstar at school, work, or play.  Moreover, it’s an art form, something that can be applied through a step-by-step process.  Although there are many ways to approach critical thinking, here are typical steps for making you more strategic:

Start off by questioning your reason for wanting to tackle a problem.  What is your motivation or purpose for considering a course of action or tackling a problem?  For instance, if you wish to enroll in a business degree, what is your reason for doing so?  Will it give you more income?  Are you good at it?  Do you like the professors?  Are you passionate about the subject matter?

You can better assess the best choice by properly analyzing why you are considering a decision.  For instance, I enrolled in Communications Studies mostly because I liked my professors.  Had I used critical thinking, I may have challenged whether my choice was the best course of action.  Although the business school would have been the best option for me, I didn’t enroll because I wanted to avoid group work.  Again, had I used critical reasoning, I would’ve challenged my assumptions and enrolled in a business degree.

Come up with a question.  Unraveling why you are tackling the problem helps you form a good question.  For example, my questions should have been, “What degree program will bring me the most success and happiness in my education and future career?”

Make an initial guess at what a solution might be.  At this stage, you don’t have all the data.  You are just taking a stab at what the correct belief or course of action might be.  For example, perhaps you think taking a maths degree is the best course of action because you’re talented at it, and it offers you the most excellent chance of achieving a Ph.D.

Research the issue or topic.  Look at multiple sources to remove bias and pick out highly relevant information.  For instance, you might look at all the courses from various disciplines to see which of them appeal to you, speak to your strengths, seem most doable, and so forth.  In my case, I should’ve researched the job requirements, job demand, and pay that would result from the degree programs by looking at a job search board like  I could’ve also taken personality and career tests to see which degree programs would be ideal for me.

Ask questions.  Ask thoughtful questions as an additional way to research your query.  For example, I could’ve also spoken with professors to get insights on what the graduate degrees emphasized in theory and methodology.  Or I could’ve contacted professors to get their advice on the career prospects for each academic discipline.

See patterns.  If you notice all the math classes have prerequisites, you could ask yourself, “Am I willing to work extra hard to master the basics?” Or suppose you notice many of the Communications classes deal with diversity.  In that case, you could ask yourself, “Does this speak to what I most want from an education?” Or, if you notice that the business school emphasizes leadership and a professional appearance, ask yourself, “Am I comfortable with leading people while dressing up daily?”

Refute assumptions.  This is important for objectively overcoming our biases.  If you cross off the business school because of group work, come up with reasons why group work is terrible.  After that, refute each reason to support why group work may be beneficial.  For instance, I may initially say group work is terrible for the following reasons:

  1. I had a bad experience with group work in the past.
  2. I had social conflict in a prior department.
  3. I work best independently.
  4. I’ll get better grades working solo.

To refute these reasons, I could’ve said the following:

  1.  I had a very positive experience with group work.
  2. I was a leader in one classroom.
  3. I would achieve better success in the workforce if I learned to work well in groups.
  4. My strenuous efforts might make me desirable for better groups, thereby keeping my grades high.

You don’t necessarily need to change your view.  You just need to consider opposing viewpoints.

Use judgment.  Now that you’ve done the above, apply your judgment.  For example, I was very keen on taking a business degree, but I was afraid of group work.  Had I looked at the reasons for the “other side,” I may have made the best choice: enroll in business school.

Make a conclusion.  Now that you have a process for critical thinking, apply it to a fun idea you’ve been toying with.  For instance, do you want to exercise more?  Earn more money?  Choose the best career?  Whatever your heart has been contemplating, apply critical thinking to make the best decision.