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How to build your critical thinking skills in 7 steps (with examples)

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Critical thinking is, well, critical. By building these skills, you improve your ability to analyze information and come to the best decision possible. In this article, we cover the basics of critical thinking, as well as the seven steps you can use to implement the full critical thinking process. 

Critical thinking comes from asking the right questions to come to the best conclusion possible. Strong critical thinkers analyze information from a variety of viewpoints in order to identify the best course of action.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you have strong critical thinking abilities. In this article, we’ll help you build a foundation for critical thinking so you can absorb, analyze, and make informed decisions. 

What is critical thinking? 

Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution. 

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Top 8 critical thinking skills

Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process. 

In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:

Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion. 

Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information. 

Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion. 

Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.

Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected. 

Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available. 

Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions. 

7 steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.

 First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process

There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process. 

The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias. 

If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .

1. Identify the problem

Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like: 

What’s happening? 

Why is this happening? 

What assumptions am I making? 

At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem? 

A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process. 

2. Research

At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper. 

During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.

Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option

3. Determine data relevance

Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant. 

Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process. 

To determine data relevance, ask yourself:

How reliable is this information? 

How significant is this information? 

Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field? 

4. Ask questions

One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making. 

We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary. 

Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:

Am I making any assumptions about this information? 

Are there additional variables I haven’t considered? 

Have I evaluated the information from every perspective? 

Are there any viewpoints I missed? 

5. Identify the best solution

Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion. 

Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision. 

6. Present your solution

Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution. 

7. Analyze your decision

The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time? 

Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was. 

Example of critical thinking in the workplace

Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps: 

Start by identifying the problem

Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page. 

Gather information about how the problem started

Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself: 

Why did you design the pricing page the way you did? 

Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process? 

Where are users getting stuck on the page?

Are any features currently working?

Then, you research

In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like. 

Ask yourself: 

How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?

Are there any pricing page best practices? 

How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation? 

Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see? 

Organize and analyze information

You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider? 

Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias

In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself: 

Is there anything I’m missing? 

Have I connected with the right stakeholders? 

Are there any other viewpoints I should consider? 

Determine the best solution for your team

You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.

Present your solution to stakeholders

Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page. 

Analyze the results

No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.

Critically successful 

Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed . 

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How to build critical thinking skills for better decision-making

It’s simple in theory, but tougher in practice – here are five tips to get you started.

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Have you heard the riddle about two coins that equal thirty cents, but one of them is not a nickel? What about the one where a surgeon says they can’t operate on their own son?

Those brain teasers tap into your critical thinking skills. But your ability to think critically isn’t just helpful for solving those random puzzles – it plays a big role in your career. 

An impressive 81% of employers say critical thinking carries a lot of weight when they’re evaluating job candidates. It ranks as the top competency companies consider when hiring recent graduates (even ahead of communication ). Plus, once you’re hired, several studies show that critical thinking skills are highly correlated with better job performance.

So what exactly are critical thinking skills? And even more importantly, how do you build and improve them? 

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the ability to evaluate facts and information, remain objective, and make a sound decision about how to move forward.

Does that sound like how you approach every decision or problem? Not so fast. Critical thinking seems simple in theory but is much tougher in practice, which helps explain why 65% of employers say their organization has a need for more critical thinking. 

In reality, critical thinking doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us. In order to do it well, you need to:

  • Remain open-minded and inquisitive, rather than relying on assumptions or jumping to conclusions
  • Ask questions and dig deep, rather than accepting information at face value
  • Keep your own biases and perceptions in check to stay as objective as possible
  • Rely on your emotional intelligence to fill in the blanks and gain a more well-rounded understanding of a situation

So, critical thinking isn’t just being intelligent or analytical. In many ways, it requires you to step outside of yourself, let go of your own preconceived notions, and approach a problem or situation with curiosity and fairness.

It’s a challenge, but it’s well worth it. Critical thinking skills will help you connect ideas, make reasonable decisions, and solve complex problems.

7 critical thinking skills to help you dig deeper

Critical thinking is often labeled as a skill itself (you’ll see it bulleted as a desired trait in a variety of job descriptions). But it’s better to think of critical thinking less as a distinct skill and more as a collection or category of skills. 

To think critically, you’ll need to tap into a bunch of your other soft skills. Here are seven of the most important. 


It’s important to kick off the critical thinking process with the idea that anything is possible. The more you’re able to set aside your own suspicions, beliefs, and agenda, the better prepared you are to approach the situation with the level of inquisitiveness you need. 

That means not closing yourself off to any possibilities and allowing yourself the space to pull on every thread – yes, even the ones that seem totally implausible.

As Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D. writes in a piece for Psychology Today , “Even if an idea appears foolish, sometimes its consideration can lead to an intelligent, critically considered conclusion.” He goes on to compare the critical thinking process to brainstorming . Sometimes the “bad” ideas are what lay the foundation for the good ones. 

Open-mindedness is challenging because it requires more effort and mental bandwidth than sticking with your own perceptions. Approaching problems or situations with true impartiality often means:

  • Practicing self-regulation : Giving yourself a pause between when you feel something and when you actually react or take action.
  • Challenging your own biases: Acknowledging your biases and seeking feedback are two powerful ways to get a broader understanding. 

Critical thinking example

In a team meeting, your boss mentioned that your company newsletter signups have been decreasing and she wants to figure out why.

At first, you feel offended and defensive – it feels like she’s blaming you for the dip in subscribers. You recognize and rationalize that emotion before thinking about potential causes. You have a hunch about what’s happening, but you will explore all possibilities and contributions from your team members.


Observation is, of course, your ability to notice and process the details all around you (even the subtle or seemingly inconsequential ones). Critical thinking demands that you’re flexible and willing to go beyond surface-level information, and solid observation skills help you do that.

Your observations help you pick up on clues from a variety of sources and experiences, all of which help you draw a final conclusion. After all, sometimes it’s the most minuscule realization that leads you to the strongest conclusion.

Over the next week or so, you keep a close eye on your company’s website and newsletter analytics to see if numbers are in fact declining or if your boss’s concerns were just a fluke. 

Critical thinking hinges on objectivity. And, to be objective, you need to base your judgments on the facts – which you collect through research. You’ll lean on your research skills to gather as much information as possible that’s relevant to your problem or situation. 

Keep in mind that this isn’t just about the quantity of information – quality matters too. You want to find data and details from a variety of trusted sources to drill past the surface and build a deeper understanding of what’s happening. 

You dig into your email and website analytics to identify trends in bounce rates, time on page, conversions, and more. You also review recent newsletters and email promotions to understand what customers have received, look through current customer feedback, and connect with your customer support team to learn what they’re hearing in their conversations with customers.

The critical thinking process is sort of like a treasure hunt – you’ll find some nuggets that are fundamental for your final conclusion and some that might be interesting but aren’t pertinent to the problem at hand.

That’s why you need analytical skills. They’re what help you separate the wheat from the chaff, prioritize information, identify trends or themes, and draw conclusions based on the most relevant and influential facts. 

It’s easy to confuse analytical thinking with critical thinking itself, and it’s true there is a lot of overlap between the two. But analytical thinking is just a piece of critical thinking. It focuses strictly on the facts and data, while critical thinking incorporates other factors like emotions, opinions, and experiences. 

As you analyze your research, you notice that one specific webpage has contributed to a significant decline in newsletter signups. While all of the other sources have stayed fairly steady with regard to conversions, that one has sharply decreased.

You decide to move on from your other hypotheses about newsletter quality and dig deeper into the analytics. 

One of the traps of critical thinking is that it’s easy to feel like you’re never done. There’s always more information you could collect and more rabbit holes you could fall down.

But at some point, you need to accept that you’ve done your due diligence and make a decision about how to move forward. That’s where inference comes in. It’s your ability to look at the evidence and facts available to you and draw an informed conclusion based on those. 

When you’re so focused on staying objective and pursuing all possibilities, inference can feel like the antithesis of critical thinking. But ultimately, it’s your inference skills that allow you to move out of the thinking process and onto the action steps. 

You dig deeper into the analytics for the page that hasn’t been converting and notice that the sharp drop-off happened around the same time you switched email providers.

After looking more into the backend, you realize that the signup form on that page isn’t correctly connected to your newsletter platform. It seems like anybody who has signed up on that page hasn’t been fed to your email list. 


3 ways to improve your communication skills at work

3 ways to improve your communication skills at work

If and when you identify a solution or answer, you can’t keep it close to the vest. You’ll need to use your communication skills to share your findings with the relevant stakeholders – like your boss, team members, or anybody who needs to be involved in the next steps.

Your analysis skills will come in handy here too, as they’ll help you determine what information other people need to know so you can avoid bogging them down with unnecessary details. 

In your next team meeting, you pull up the analytics and show your team the sharp drop-off as well as the missing connection between that page and your email platform. You ask the web team to reinstall and double-check that connection and you also ask a member of the marketing team to draft an apology email to the subscribers who were missed. 


Critical thinking and problem-solving are two more terms that are frequently confused. After all, when you think critically, you’re often doing so with the objective of solving a problem.

The best way to understand how problem-solving and critical thinking differ is to think of problem-solving as much more narrow. You’re focused on finding a solution.

In contrast, you can use critical thinking for a variety of use cases beyond solving a problem – like answering questions or identifying opportunities for improvement. Even so, within the critical thinking process, you’ll flex your problem-solving skills when it comes time to take action. 

Once the fix is implemented, you monitor the analytics to see if subscribers continue to increase. If not (or if they increase at a slower rate than you anticipated), you’ll roll out some other tests like changing the CTA language or the placement of the subscribe form on the page.

5 ways to improve your critical thinking skills

Beyond the buzzwords: Why interpersonal skills matter at work

Beyond the buzzwords: Why interpersonal skills matter at work

Think critically about critical thinking and you’ll quickly realize that it’s not as instinctive as you’d like it to be. Fortunately, your critical thinking skills are learned competencies and not inherent gifts – and that means you can improve them. Here’s how:

  • Practice active listening: Active listening helps you process and understand what other people share. That’s crucial as you aim to be open-minded and inquisitive.
  • Ask open-ended questions: If your critical thinking process involves collecting feedback and opinions from others, ask open-ended questions (meaning, questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). Doing so will give you more valuable information and also prevent your own biases from influencing people’s input.
  • Scrutinize your sources: Figuring out what to trust and prioritize is crucial for critical thinking. Boosting your media literacy and asking more questions will help you be more discerning about what to factor in. It’s hard to strike a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness, but approaching information with questions (rather than unquestioning trust) will help you draw better conclusions. 
  • Play a game: Remember those riddles we mentioned at the beginning? As trivial as they might seem, games and exercises like those can help you boost your critical thinking skills. There are plenty of critical thinking exercises you can do individually or as a team . 
  • Give yourself time: Research shows that rushed decisions are often regrettable ones. That’s likely because critical thinking takes time – you can’t do it under the wire. So, for big decisions or hairy problems, give yourself enough time and breathing room to work through the process. It’s hard enough to think critically without a countdown ticking in your brain. 

Critical thinking really is critical

The ability to think critically is important, but it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It’s just easier to stick with biases, assumptions, and surface-level information. 

But that route often leads you to rash judgments, shaky conclusions, and disappointing decisions. So here’s a conclusion we can draw without any more noodling: Even if it is more demanding on your mental resources, critical thinking is well worth the effort.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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Module 5: Thinking and Analysis

Problem-solving with critical thinking, learning outcomes.

  • Describe how critical thinking skills can be used in problem-solving

Most of us face problems that we must solve every day. While some problems are more complex than others, we can apply critical thinking skills to every problem by asking questions like, what information am I missing? Why and how is it important? What are the contributing factors that lead to the problem? What resources are available to solve the problem? These questions are just the start of being able to think of innovative and effective solutions. Read through the following critical thinking, problem-solving process to identify steps you are already familiar with as well as opportunities to build a more critical approach to solving problems.

Problem-Solving Process

Step 1: define the problem.

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Often, when we first hear of or learn about a problem, we do not have all the information. If we immediately try to find a solution without having a thorough understanding of the problem, then we may only be solving a part of the problem.  This is called a “band-aid fix,” or when a symptom is addressed, but not the actual problem. While these band-aid fixes may provide temporary relief, if the actual problem is not addressed soon, then the problem will continue and likely get worse. Therefore, the first step when using critical thinking to solve problems is to identify the problem. The goal during this step is to gather enough research to determine how widespread the problem is, its nature, and its importance.

Step 2: Analyze the Causes

This step is used to uncover assumptions and underlying problems that are at the root of the problem. This step is important since you will need to ensure that whatever solution is chosen addresses the actual cause, or causes, of the problem.

Asking “why” questions to uncover root causes

A common way to uncover root causes is by asking why questions. When we are given an answer to a why question, we will often need to question that answer itself. Thus the process of asking “why” is an  iterative process —meaning that it is a process that we can repeatedly apply. When we stop asking why questions depends on what information we need and that can differ depending on what the goals are. For a better understanding, see the example below:

Problem: The lamp does not turn on.

  • Why doesn’t the lamp turn on? The fuse is blown.
  • Why is the fuse blown? There was overloaded circuit.
  • Why was the circuit overloaded? The hair dryer was on.

If one is simply a homeowner or tenant, then it might be enough to simply know that if the hair dryer is on, the circuit will overload and turn off.  However, one can always ask further why questions, depending on what the goal is. For example, suppose someone wants to know if all hair dryers overload circuits or just this one. We might continue thus:

  • Why did this hair dryer overload the circuit? Because hair dryers in general require a lot of electricity.

But now suppose we are an electrical engineer and are interested in designing a more environmentally friendly hair dryer. In that case, we might ask further:

  • Why do hair dryers require so much energy?

As you can see from this example, what counts as a root cause depends on context and interests. The homeowner will not necessarily be interested in asking the further why questions whereas others might be.

Step 3: Generate Solutions

The goal of this step is to generate as many solutions as possible. In order to do so, brainstorm as many ideas as possible, no matter how outrageous or ineffective the idea might seem at the time. During your brainstorming session, it is important to generate solutions freely without editing or evaluating any of the ideas. The more solutions that you can generate, the more innovative and effective your ultimate solution might become upon later review.

You might find that setting a timer for fifteen to thirty minutes will help you to creatively push past the point when you think you are done. Another method might be to set a target for how many ideas you will generate. You might also consider using categories to trigger ideas. If you are brainstorming with a group, consider brainstorming individually for a while and then also brainstorming together as ideas can build from one idea to the next.

Step 4: Select a Solution

Once the brainstorming session is complete, then it is time to evaluate the solutions and select the more effective one.  Here you will consider how each solution will address the causes determined in step 2. It is also helpful to develop the criteria you will use when evaluating each solution, for instance, cost, time, difficulty level, resources needed, etc. Once your criteria for evaluation is established, then consider ranking each criterion by importance since some solutions might meet all criteria, but not to equally effective degrees.

In addition to evaluating by criteria, ensure that you consider possibilities and consequences of all serious contenders to address any drawbacks to a solution. Lastly, ensure that the solutions are actually feasible.

Step 6: Put Solution into Action

While many problem-solving models stop at simply selecting a solution, in order to actually solve a problem, the solution must be put into action. Here, you take responsibility to create, communicate, and execute the plan with detailed organizational logistics by addressing who will be responsible for what, when, and how.

Step 7: Evaluate progress

The final step when employing critical thinking to problem-solving is to evaluate the progress of the solution. Since critical thinking demands open-mindedness, analysis, and a willingness to change one’s mind, it is important to monitor how well the solution has actually solved the problem in order to determine if any course correction is needed.

While we solve problems every day, following the process to apply more critical thinking approaches in each step by considering what information might be missing; analyzing the problem and causes; remaining open-minded while brainstorming solutions; and providing criteria for, evaluating, and monitoring solutions can help you to become a better problem-solver and strengthen your critical thinking skills.

iterative process: one that can be repeatedly applied


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5.3: Using Critical Thinking Skills- Decision Making and Problem Solving

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In previous lessons, you learned about characteristics of critical thinkers and information literacy. In this module, you will learn how to put those skills into action through the important processes of decision making and problem solving.

As with the process of developing information literacy, asking questions is an important part of decision making and problem solving. Thinking is born of questions. Questions wake us up. Questions alert us to hidden assumptions. Questions promote curiosity and create new distinctions. Questions open up options that otherwise go unexplored. Besides, teachers love questions.

We make decisions all the time, whether we realize it or not. Even avoiding decisions is a form of decision making. The student who puts off studying for a test until the last minute, for example, might really be saying, “I’ve decided this course is not important” or “I’ve decided not to give this course much time.”

Decisions are specific and lead to focused action. When we decide, we narrow down. We give up actions that are inconsistent with our decision.

In addition to decision making, critical thinking skills are important to solving problems. We encounter problems every single day, and having a solid process in place is important to solving them.

At the end of the lesson, you will learn how to put your critical thinking skills to use by reviewing an example of how critical thinking skills can help with making those everyday decisions.

Using Critical Thinking Skills: Asking Questions

Questions have practical power. Asking for directions can shave hours off a trip. Asking a librarian for help can save hours of research time. Asking how to address an instructor—by first name or formal title—can change your relationship with that person. Asking your academic advisor a question can alter your entire education. Asking people about their career plans can alter your career plans.

You can use the following strategies to develop questions for problem solving and decision making:

Ask questions that create possibilities. At any moment, you can ask a question that opens up a new possibility for someone.

  • Suppose a friend walks up to you and says, “People just never listen to me.” You listen carefully. Then you say, “Let me make sure I understand. Who, specifically, doesn’t listen to you? And how do you know they’re not listening?”
  • Another friend tells you, “I just lost my job to someone who has less experience. That should never happen.” You respond, “Wow, that’s hard. I’m sorry you lost your job. Who can help you find another job?”
  • A relative seeks your advice. “My mother-in-law makes me mad,” she says. “You’re having a hard time with this person,” you say. “What does she say and do when you feel mad at her? And are there times when you don’t get mad at her?”

These kinds of questions—asked with compassion and a sense of timing—can help people move from complaining about problems to solving them.

Discover new questions. Students sometimes say, “I don’t know what questions to ask.” Consider the following ways to create questions about any subject you want to study or about any

area of your life that you want to change:

  • Let your pen start moving. Sometimes you can access a deeper level of knowledge by taking out your pen, putting it on a piece of paper, and writing down questions—even before you know what to write. Don’t think. Just watch the pen move across the paper. Notice what appears. The results might be surprising.
  • Ask about what’s missing . Another way to invent useful questions is to notice what’s missing from your life and then ask how to supply it. For example, if you want to take better notes, you can write, “What’s missing is skill in note taking. How can I gain more skill in taking notes?” If you always feel rushed, you can write, “What’s missing is time. How do I create enough time in my day to actually do the things that I say I want to do?”
  • Pretend to be someone else. Another way to invent questions is first to think of someone you greatly respect. Then pretend you’re that person. Ask the questions you think she would ask.
  • What can I do when ... an instructor calls on me in class and I have no idea what to say? When a teacher doesn’t show up for class on time? When I feel overwhelmed with assignments?
  • How can I ... take the kind of courses that I want? Expand my career options? Become much more effective as a student, starting today?
  • When do I ... decide on a major? Transfer to another school? Meet with an instructor to discuss an upcoming term paper?
  • What else do I want to know about ... my academic plan? My career plan? My options for job hunting? My friends? My relatives? My spouse?
  • Who can I ask about ... my career options? My major? My love life? My values and purpose in life?

Many times you can quickly generate questions by simply asking yourself, “What else do I want to know?” Ask this question immediately after you read a paragraph in a book or listen to someone speak.

Start from the assumption that you are brilliant. Then ask questions to unlock your brilliance.

Using Critical Thinking Skills in Decision Making

As you develop your critical thinking skills, you can apply them as you make decisions. The following suggestions can help in your decision-making process:

Recognize decisions. Decisions are more than wishes or desires. There’s a world of difference between “I wish I could be a better student” and “I will take more powerful notes, read with greater retention, and review my class notes daily.” Deciding to eat fruit for dessert instead of ice cream rules out the next trip to the ice cream store.

Establish priorities. Some decisions are trivial. No matter what the outcome, your life is not affected much. Other decisions can shape your circumstances for years. Devote more time and energy to the decisions with big outcomes.

Base decisions on a life plan. The benefit of having long-term goals for our lives is that they provide a basis for many of our daily decisions. Being certain about what we want to accomplish this year and this month makes today’s choices more clear.

Balance learning styles in decision making. To make decisions more effectively, use all four modes of learning explained in a previous lesson. The key is to balance reflection with action, and thinking with experience. First, take the time to think creatively, and generate many options. Then think critically about the possible consequences of each option before choosing one. Remember, however, that thinking is no substitute for experience. Act on your chosen option, and notice what happens. If you’re not getting the results you want, then quickly return to creative thinking to invent new options.

Choose an overall strategy. Every time you make a decision, you choose a strategy—even when you’re not aware of it. Effective decision makers can articulate and choose from among several strategies. For example:

  • Find all of the available options, and choose one deliberately. Save this strategy for times when you have a relatively small number of options, each of which leads to noticeably different results.
  • Find all of the available options, and choose one randomly. This strategy can be risky. Save it for times when your options are basically similar and fairness is the main issue.
  • Limit the options, and then choose. When deciding which search engine to use, visit many search sites and then narrow the list down to two or three from which to choose.

Use time as an ally. Sometimes we face dilemmas—situations in which any course of action leads to undesirable consequences. In such cases, consider putting a decision on hold. Wait it out. Do nothing until the circumstances change, making one alternative clearly preferable to another.

Use intuition. Some decisions seem to make themselves. A solution pops into your mind, and you gain newfound clarity. Using intuition is not the same as forgetting about the decision or refusing to make it. Intuitive decisions usually arrive after we’ve gathered the relevant facts and faced a problem for some time.

Evaluate your decision. Hindsight is a source of insight. After you act on a decision, observe the consequences over time. Reflect on how well your decision worked and what you might have done differently.

Think of choices. This final suggestion involves some creative thinking. Consider that the word decide derives from the same roots as suicide and homicide . In the spirit of those words, a decision forever “kills” all other options. That’s kind of heavy. Instead, use the word choice , and see whether it frees up your thinking. When you choose , you express a preference for one option over others. However, those options remain live possibilities for the future. Choose for today, knowing that as you gain more wisdom and experience, you can choose again.

Using Critical Thinking Skills in Problem Solving

Think of problem solving as a process with four Ps : Define the problem , generate possibilities ,

create a plan , and perform your plan.

Step 1: Define the problem. To define a problem effectively, understand what a problem is—a mismatch between what you want and what you have. Problem solving is all about reducing the gap between these two factors.

Tell the truth about what’s present in your life right now, without shame or blame. For example: “I often get sleepy while reading my physics assignments, and after closing the book I cannot remember what I just read.”

Next, describe in detail what you want. Go for specifics: “I want to remain alert as I read about physics. I also want to accurately summarize each chapter I read.”

Remember that when we define a problem in limiting ways, our solutions merely generate new problems. As Albert Einstein said, “The world we have made is a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far. We cannot solve problems at the same level at which we created them” (Calaprice 2000).

This idea has many applications for success in school. An example is the student who struggles with note taking. The problem, she thinks, is that her notes are too sketchy. The logical solution, she decides, is to take more notes; her new goal is to write down almost everything her instructors say. No matter how fast and furiously she writes, she cannot capture all of the instructors’ comments.

Consider what happens when this student defines the problem in a new way. After more thought, she decides that her dilemma is not the quantity of her notes but their quality . She adopts a new format for taking notes, dividing her notepaper into two columns. In the right-hand column, she writes down only the main points of each lecture. In the left-hand column, she notes two or three supporting details for each point.

Over time, this student makes the joyous discovery that there are usually just three or four core ideas to remember from each lecture. She originally thought the solution was to take more notes. What really worked was taking notes in a new way.

Step 2: Generate possibilities. Now put on your creative thinking hat. Open up. Brainstorm as many possible solutions to the problem as you can. At this stage, quantity counts. As you generate possibilities, gather relevant facts. For example, when you’re faced with a dilemma about what courses to take next semester, get information on class times, locations, and instructors. If you haven’t decided which summer job offer to accept, gather information on salary, benefits, and working conditions.

Step 3: Create a plan. After rereading your problem definition and list of possible solutions, choose the solution that seems most workable. Think about specific actions that will reduce the gap between what you have and what you want. Visualize the steps you will take to make this solution a reality, and arrange them in chronological order. To make your plan even more powerful, put it in writing.

Step 4: Perform your plan. This step gets you off your chair and out into the world. Now you actually do what you have planned.

Ultimately, your skill in solving problems lies in how well you perform your plan. Through the quality of your actions, you become the architect of your own success.

When facing problems, experiment with these four Ps, and remember that the order of steps is not absolute. Also remember that any solution has the potential to create new problems. If that happens, cycle through the four Ps of problem solving again.

Critical Thinking Skills in Action: Thinking About Your Major, Part 1

One decision that troubles many students in higher education is the choice of a major. Weighing the benefits, costs, and outcomes of a possible major is an intellectual challenge. This choice is an opportunity to apply your critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. The following suggestions will guide you through this seemingly overwhelming process.

The first step is to discover options. You can use the following suggestions to discover options for choosing your major:

Follow the fun. Perhaps you look forward to attending one of your classes and even like completing the assignments. This is a clue to your choice of major.

See whether you can find lasting patterns in the subjects and extracurricular activities that you’ve enjoyed over the years. Look for a major that allows you to continue and expand on these experiences.

Also, sit down with a stack of 3 × 5 cards and brainstorm answers to the following questions:

  • What do you enjoy doing most with your unscheduled time?
  • Imagine that you’re at a party and having a fascinating conversation. What is this conversation about?
  • What kind of problems do you enjoy solving—those that involve people? Products? Ideas?
  • What interests are revealed by your choices of reading material, television shows, and other entertainment?
  • What would an ideal day look like for you? Describe where you would live, who would be with you, and what you would do throughout the day. Do any of these visions suggest a possible major?

Questions like these can uncover a “fun factor” that energizes you to finish the work of completing a major.

Consider your abilities. In choosing a major, ability counts as much as interest. In addition to considering what you enjoy, think about times and places when you excelled. List the courses that you aced, the work assignments that you mastered, and the hobbies that led to rewards or recognition. Let your choice of a major reflect a discovery of your passions and potentials.

Use formal techniques for self-discovery. Explore questionnaires and inventories that are designed to correlate your interests with specific majors. Examples include the Strong Interest Inventory and the Self-Directed Search. Your academic advisor or someone in your school’s career planning office can give you more details about these and related assessments. For some fun, take several of them and meet with an advisor to interpret the results. Remember inventories can help you gain self-knowledge, and other people can offer valuable perspectives. However, what you do with all this input is entirely up to you.

Critical Thinking Skills in Action: Thinking About Your Major, Part 2

As you review the following additional suggestions of discovering options, think about what strategies you already use in your own decision-making process. Also think about what new strategies you might try in the future.

Link to long-term goals. Your choice of a major can fall into place once you determine what you want in life. Before you choose a major, back up to a bigger picture. List your core values, such as contributing to society, achieving financial security and professional recognition, enjoying good health, or making time for fun. Also write down specific goals that you want to accomplish 5 years, 10 years, or even 50 years from today.

Many students find that the prospect of getting what they want in life justifies all of the time, money, and day-to-day effort invested in going to school. Having a major gives you a powerful incentive for attending classes, taking part in discussions, reading textbooks, writing papers, and completing other assignments. When you see a clear connection between finishing school and creating the life of your dreams, the daily tasks of higher education become charged with meaning.

Ask other people. Key people in your life might have valuable suggestions about your choice of major. Ask for their ideas, and listen with an open mind. At the same time, distance yourself from any pressure to choose a major or career that fails to interest you. If you make a choice solely on the basis of the expectations of other people, you could end up with a major or even a career you don’t enjoy.

Gather information. Check your school’s catalog or website for a list of available majors. Here is a gold mine of information. Take a quick glance, and highlight all the majors that interest you. Then talk to students who have declared these majors. Also read the descriptions of courses required for these majors. Do you get excited about the chance to enroll in them? Pay attention to your gut feelings.

Also chat with instructors who teach courses in a specific major. Ask for copies of their class syllabi. Go to the bookstore and browse the required texts. Based on all of this information, write a list of prospective majors. Discuss them with an academic advisor and someone at your school’s career-planning center.

Invent a major. When choosing a major, you might not need to limit yourself to those listed in your school catalog. Many schools now have flexible programs that allow for independent study. Through such programs, you might be able to combine two existing majors or invent an entirely new one of your own.

Consider a complementary minor. You can add flexibility to your academic program by choosing a minor to complement or contrast with your major. The student who wants to be a minister could opt for a minor in English; all of those courses in composition can help in writing sermons. Or the student with a major in psychology might choose a minor in business administration, with the idea of managing a counseling service some day. An effective choice of a minor can expand your skills and career options.

Think critically about the link between your major and your career. Your career goals might have a significant impact on your choice of major.

You could pursue a rewarding career by choosing among several different majors. Even students planning to apply for law school or medical school have flexibility in their choice of majors. In addition, after graduation, many people tend to be employed in jobs that have little relationship to their major. And you might choose a career in the future that is unrelated to any currently available major.

Critical Thinking Skills in Action: Thinking About Your Major, Part 3

Once you have discovered all of your options, you can move on to the next step in the process— making a trial choice.

Make a Trial Choice

Pretend that you have to choose a major today. Based on the options for a major that you’ve already discovered, write down the first three ideas that come to mind. Review the list for a few minutes, and then choose one.

Evaluate Your Trial Choice

When you’ve made a trial choice of major, take on the role of a scientist. Treat your choice as a hypothesis, and then design a series of experiments to evaluate and test it. For example:

  • Schedule office meetings with instructors who teach courses in the major. Ask about required course work and career options in the field.
  • Discuss your trial choice with an academic advisor or career counselor.
  • Enroll in a course related to your possible major. Remember that introductory courses might not give you a realistic picture of the workload involved in advanced courses. Also, you might not be able to register for certain courses until you’ve actually declared a related major.
  • Find a volunteer experience, internship, part-time job, or service-learning experience related to the major.
  • Interview students who have declared the same major. Ask them in detail about their experiences and suggestions for success.
  • Interview people who work in a field related to the major and “shadow” them—that is, spend time with those people during their workday.
  • Think about whether you can complete your major given the amount of time and money that you plan to invest in higher education.
  • Consider whether declaring this major would require a transfer to another program or even another school.

If your “experiments” confirm your choice of major, celebrate that fact. If they result in choosing a new major, celebrate that outcome as well.

Also remember that higher education represents a safe place to test your choice of major—and to change your mind. As you sort through your options, help is always available from administrators, instructors, advisors, and peers.

Choose Again

Keep your choice of a major in perspective. There is probably no single “correct” choice. Your unique collection of skills is likely to provide the basis for majoring in several fields.

Odds are that you’ll change your major at least once—and that you’ll change careers several times during your life. One benefit of higher education is mobility. You gain the general skills and knowledge that can help you move into a new major or career field at any time.

Viewing a major as a one-time choice that determines your entire future can raise your stress levels. Instead, look at choosing a major as the start of a continuing path that involves discovery, choice, and passionate action.

As you review this example of how you can use critical thinking to make a decision about choosing your major, think about how you will use your critical thinking to make decisions and solve problems in the future.


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Critical Thinking

Developing the right mindset and skills.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.

We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it!

In this article, we'll explore the key skills that you need to develop your critical thinking skills, and how to adopt a critical thinking mindset, so that you can make well-informed decisions.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly valued asset in the workplace. People who score highly in critical thinking assessments are also rated by their managers as having good problem-solving skills, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and good overall performance. [1]

Key Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinkers possess a set of key characteristics which help them to question information and their own thinking. Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:

Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation.

To nurture your curiosity, stay up to date with facts and trends. You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so always be open to new information.

But don't stop there! Look for opposing views or evidence to challenge your information, and seek clarification when things are unclear. This will help you to reassess your beliefs and make a well-informed decision later. Read our article, Opening Closed Minds , for more ways to stay receptive.

Logical Thinking

You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.

It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so control your emotions and be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies , for help with this.

Use creative problem solving to balance cold logic. By thinking outside of the box you can identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.


Many of the decisions we make in life are subtly informed by our values and beliefs. These influences are called cognitive biases and it can be difficult to identify them in ourselves because they're often subconscious.

Practicing self-awareness will allow you to reflect on the beliefs you have and the choices you make. You'll then be better equipped to challenge your own thinking and make improved, unbiased decisions.

One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference . It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.

Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset

Combine the above skills with the right mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action. You can develop your critical thinking mindset by following this process:

Gather Information

First, collect data, opinions and facts on the issue that you need to solve. Draw on what you already know, and turn to new sources of information to help inform your understanding. Consider what gaps there are in your knowledge and seek to fill them. And look for information that challenges your assumptions and beliefs.

Be sure to verify the authority and authenticity of your sources. Not everything you read is true! Use this checklist to ensure that your information is valid:

  • Are your information sources trustworthy ? (For example, well-respected authors, trusted colleagues or peers, recognized industry publications, websites, blogs, etc.)
  • Is the information you have gathered up to date ?
  • Has the information received any direct criticism ?
  • Does the information have any errors or inaccuracies ?
  • Is there any evidence to support or corroborate the information you have gathered?
  • Is the information you have gathered subjective or biased in any way? (For example, is it based on opinion, rather than fact? Is any of the information you have gathered designed to promote a particular service or organization?)

If any information appears to be irrelevant or invalid, don't include it in your decision making. But don't omit information just because you disagree with it, or your final decision will be flawed and bias.

Now observe the information you have gathered, and interpret it. What are the key findings and main takeaways? What does the evidence point to? Start to build one or two possible arguments based on what you have found.

You'll need to look for the details within the mass of information, so use your powers of observation to identify any patterns or similarities. You can then analyze and extend these trends to make sensible predictions about the future.

To help you to sift through the multiple ideas and theories, it can be useful to group and order items according to their characteristics. From here, you can compare and contrast the different items. And once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to analyze them.

The final step involves challenging the information and rationalizing its arguments.

Apply the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. To do this, it's essential that you can determine the significance and validity of an argument to put it in the correct perspective. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking , for more information about how to do this.

Once you have considered all of the arguments and options rationally, you can finally make an informed decision.

Afterward, take time to reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging. Step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Record what you've learned from your observations and experience.

Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. It's a useful skill in the workplace and in life.

You'll need to be curious and creative to explore alternative possibilities, but rational to apply logic, and self-aware to identify when your beliefs could affect your decisions or actions.

You can demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by validating your information, analyzing its meaning, and finally evaluating the argument.

Critical Thinking Infographic

See Critical Thinking represented in our infographic: An Elementary Guide to Critical Thinking .

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making  - What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking and decision-making  -, what is critical thinking, critical thinking and decision-making what is critical thinking.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making: What is Critical Thinking?

Lesson 1: what is critical thinking, what is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a term that gets thrown around a lot. You've probably heard it used often throughout the years whether it was in school, at work, or in everyday conversation. But when you stop to think about it, what exactly is critical thinking and how do you do it ?

Watch the video below to learn more about critical thinking.

Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions . It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better.

illustration of the terms logic, reasoning, and creativity

This may sound like a pretty broad definition, and that's because critical thinking is a broad skill that can be applied to so many different situations. You can use it to prepare for a job interview, manage your time better, make decisions about purchasing things, and so much more.

The process

illustration of "thoughts" inside a human brain, with several being connected and "analyzed"

As humans, we are constantly thinking . It's something we can't turn off. But not all of it is critical thinking. No one thinks critically 100% of the time... that would be pretty exhausting! Instead, it's an intentional process , something that we consciously use when we're presented with difficult problems or important decisions.

Improving your critical thinking

illustration of the questions "What do I currently know?" and "How do I know this?"

In order to become a better critical thinker, it's important to ask questions when you're presented with a problem or decision, before jumping to any conclusions. You can start with simple ones like What do I currently know? and How do I know this? These can help to give you a better idea of what you're working with and, in some cases, simplify more complex issues.  

Real-world applications

illustration of a hand holding a smartphone displaying an article that reads, "Study: Cats are better than dogs"

Let's take a look at how we can use critical thinking to evaluate online information . Say a friend of yours posts a news article on social media and you're drawn to its headline. If you were to use your everyday automatic thinking, you might accept it as fact and move on. But if you were thinking critically, you would first analyze the available information and ask some questions :

  • What's the source of this article?
  • Is the headline potentially misleading?
  • What are my friend's general beliefs?
  • Do their beliefs inform why they might have shared this?

illustration of "Super Cat Blog" and "According to survery of cat owners" being highlighted from an article on a smartphone

After analyzing all of this information, you can draw a conclusion about whether or not you think the article is trustworthy.

Critical thinking has a wide range of real-world applications . It can help you to make better decisions, become more hireable, and generally better understand the world around you.

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Solving Problems with Creative and Critical Thinking

This course is part of People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success Specialization

Taught in English

Some content may not be translated

IBM Skills Network Team

Instructor: IBM Skills Network Team

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No Previous Experience Required! This course can be taken by anyone regardless of professional experience.

What you'll learn

Utilize critical and creative thinking to solve issues.

Describe the 5-step process of effectively solving problems.

Analyze a problem and identify the root cause.

Explore possible solutions and employ the problem solving process.

Skills you'll gain

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking
  • Professional Development
  • Problem Solving
  • Soft skills

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There is 1 module in this course

In order to find a solution, one needs to be able to analyze a problem. This short course is designed to teach you how to solve and analyze problems effectively with critical and creative thinking.

Through the use of creative and critical thinking you will learn how to look at a problem and find the best solution by analyzing the different ways you can solve a problem. By taking this quick course you will gain the skills you need to find the root cause of a problem through the use of a five-step method. You will learn the process you must go through in order to find the problem, which leads to finding a solution. You will gain the necessary skills needed for critical and creative thinking which will be the foundation for successfully solving problems. This course provides fundamental skills that you will need to use in your day to day work. The course is suitable for anyone – students, career starters, experienced professionals and managers - wanting to develop problem solving skills regardless of your background. By taking this course you will be gaining some of the essential skills you need in order to be successful in your professional life. This course is part of the People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success Specialization from IBM.

This module will help you to develop skills and behaviors required to solve problems and implement solutions more efficiently in an agile manner by using a systematic five-step process that involves both creative and critical thinking.

What's included

31 videos 11 readings 12 quizzes

31 videos • Total 30 minutes

  • Why do you need to focus on solving problems? • 1 minute • Preview module
  • The problem-solving process • 1 minute
  • How can you solve problems in an agile way? • 0 minutes
  • Let’s begin with the first topic • 0 minutes
  • The problem-solving process-Identify • 0 minutes
  • Write a problem statement • 0 minutes
  • How do you find out if a problem is worth solving? • 0 minutes
  • Recap • 0 minutes
  • Let’s move to the second topic • 1 minute
  • The problem-solving process: Analyze • 1 minute
  • How do you use “The 5 Whys”? • 1 minute
  • The root cause! • 0 minutes
  • Many tools can help with root cause analysis • 0 minutes
  • Let’s move to the third topic • 0 minutes
  • The problem-solving process: Explore • 0 minutes
  • Brainstorming rules • 1 minute
  • Brainstorm to solve Georgia’s problem • 0 minutes
  • Let’s move to the fourth topic • 0 minutes
  • The problem-solving process: Select • 2 minutes
  • Let’s find five solutions for one problem • 1 minute
  • Use these factors to identify who should choose a solution • 0 minutes
  • Use the Ease and effectiveness matrix to select the best solution • 0 minutes
  • Recap • 1 minute
  • Let’s move to the fifth topic • 0 minutes
  • What will success look like? • 0 minutes
  • How will you measure a solution’s effectiveness? • 0 minutes
  • If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it • 0 minutes
  • Build an implementation plan • 0 minutes
  • Review the five-step problem-solving process • 2 minutes

11 readings • Total 36 minutes

  • Critical and creative thinking are required to solve problems • 5 minutes
  • What will you learn from the course? • 2 minutes
  • Let’s help Georgia! • 5 minutes
  • Is Georgia’s problem worth solving? • 4 minutes
  • Recap • 2 minutes
  • Brainstorm to get plenty of ideas • 5 minutes
  • Let’s find five solutions for one problem • 2 minutes
  • Who should chose a solution in Georgia's problem? • 2 minutes
  • How will you work out the best possible solution? • 4 minutes
  • Plan to implement the solution for Georgia • 3 minutes
  • Congratulations and Next Steps. • 2 minutes

12 quizzes • Total 116 minutes

  • Graded Quiz: Solving Problems with Critical and Creative Thinking • 20 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: What do you think? • 5 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: What do you think? • 3 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: The “5 Whys” for Georgia • 20 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Which type of solution will work for Georgia? • 3 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Who should choose the solution in each case? • 10 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Who should choose a solution to Georgia’s problem? • 10 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Using the Ease and Effectiveness Matrix • 10 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Let’s use the Ease and effectiveness matrix for Georgia’s problem • 10 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: What do you think success will look like? • 5 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: What do you think? • 10 minutes
  • Practice Quiz: Solving Problems with Critical and Creative Thinking • 10 minutes

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what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

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The Salesforce Consultant’s Guide pp 151–160 Cite as

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

  • Heather Negley 2  
  • First Online: 28 April 2022

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Critical thinking is a type of systematic thinking that is used to solve problems using logic. The first step is to gather the information needed to help you solve your problem. You start by analyzing and evaluating sources for authority to give you the best shot at finding something truthful and unbiased. Watch Out For information overload. Access to information is easier than ever these days, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all. As you conduct your research, keep your information organized by filtering, synthesizing, and distilling it. And keep your effort timeboxed. Start broad enough to obtain a wide berth, like a fisherman casting a large net into an ocean. This helps find multiple points of view. But don’t spend more time than necessary. Practicing collecting what is sufficient to answer your questions.

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  • Rasmussen University
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  • Critical Thinking
  • Steps 1 & 2: Reflection and Analysis

Critical Thinking: Steps 1 & 2: Reflection and Analysis

  • Step 3: Acquisition of Information
  • Step 4: Creativity
  • Step 5: Structuring Arguments
  • Step 6: Decision Making
  • Steps 7 & 8: Commitment and Debate
  • In the Classroom
  • In the Workplace

Identify, Reflect, and Analyze

  • Step 1: Reflect
  • Step 2: Analyze

Step 1: Reflecting on the Issue, Problem, or Task

Reflection is an important early step in critical thinking. There are various kinds of reflection that promote deeper levels of critical thinking (click on the table to view larger):

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

Brockbank, A., & McGill, I. (2007).  Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education . Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill Education.

Ask yourself questions to identify the nature and essence of the issue, problem, or task. Why are you examining this subject? Why is it important that you solve this problem? 

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

Reflective Thinking

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

Game:   There is 1 random word below.  Use it as inspiration to think of something it would be interesting if we never had in this world.

Challenge:   For extra challenge, reply to someone else’s suggestion and predict how life would be different if it never was.  Try and think big.  Think about profound and extreme ways in which the world may be different.

Strategy: We often think about how life would be better if only we had X (X being something we would quite like).  It can be a fun way to pass the time but it tends to involve adding something new to our lives.  Let's go the other way around and subtract something instead.  But instead of something desirable it will be something that we take for granted, something simple.  Then trying to predict how it would have a profound effect changing the world around us becomes an act in following a chain reaction of influences.  Creativity often involves having keen insights into how everything influences and affects everything around it in often unobvious ways.  This little game is a good way to practice that thinking.

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3 critical thinking strategies to enhance your problem-solving skills

3 critical thinking strategies to enhance your problem-solving skills

Think back to the last time you made a big decision.

Maybe you were choosing between two jobs or whether to move across the country.

How did you make your choice? Most likely, you analyzed the pros and cons of each option and chose the one that made the most sense for you.

This decision-making process relied on an important skill we all need: critical thinking.

Critical thinking is usually associated with analyzing complex problems in a corporate boardroom or sitting through a tedious philosophy lecture. While those are undoubtedly valid applications of critical thinking skills, the truth is that everyone thinks critically every day — often without even realizing it.

Critical thinking strategies allow us to objectively evaluate information and make informed decisions based on logic and reason. The critical thinking process is essential for success in many areas, from business to academia to parenting. No matter your profession or lifestyle, learning how to think critically can improve your life in countless ways.

In this article, you'll learn more about critical thinking skills and how to enhance them by following specific, actionable critical thinking strategies.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking strategies: CRITICAL THINKING on a note pinned to a yellow wall

There are many ways to interpret the concept of critical thinking. Science, academia, and business all have their own viewpoints. An official definition of critical thinking is difficult to label, and that's logical. After all, the critical thinking process isn't about memorizing generic definitions — it's about asking questions for yourself.

At its simplest, the Foundation for Critical Thinking (FCT) Model defines critical thinking as "...the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it." The critical thinking process is about being objective — seeing different points of view and keeping an open mind when new information contradicts your beliefs and opinions. Critical thinkers prioritize facts over emotions, remove biases, verify information, and use logical reasoning to solve problems.

When is a critical thinking strategy essential?

Ball of yarn on a profile, clay model of a human head

Sound reasoning is essential to making good decisions. Since we all make thousands of decisions every day, it can be beneficial to strengthen our reasoning and problem-solving skills.

However, critical thinking skills can be more than just helpful in some situations — they're vital. These instances include:

  • Interpreting the news . Social networking has changed the way we receive information. About half of U.S. adults get their news from social media , and more than a third regularly turn to Facebook as their source. Since anyone can share anything on social networks, fake news spreads quickly , so it's essential to think critically to discern fake news from accurate reporting.
  • In the workplace . According to the World Economic Forum, critical thinking skills are one of the top two skills needed for the future of work as the Fourth Industrial Revolution develops). Indeed, 93% of executives say "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major."
  • Formal education and self-learning . Critical thinking skills help learners engage in the learning process. Thinking critically encourages curiosity, leading us to ask tough questions when faced with challenging situations or material and delve deeper into the new subject matter. As a result, we better understand the information and discover practical ways to integrate it.
  • Parenting . Parenting involves various critical thinking skills, from managing discipline to making care decisions. A constant stream of opinions and trends on social media makes decision-making even more challenging for a modern parent. Asking open-ended questions, researching claims, becoming aware of critical thinking barriers , and being skeptical of trends are necessary to make informed decisions about children's care.

These are just a few examples of situations where critical thinking can be helpful. There are many other areas of life in which critical thinking strategies are beneficial. To use them properly, you'll need to develop a few key critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills

Notepad, red pen, blue pieces of paper and a question mark

Applying critical thinking strategies requires the use of a few essential skills. Experts identify the core critical thinking skills as:

  • Interpretation is the ability to understand and make sense of information. When we interpret something, we use subskills like categorization and significance to help us clarify the meaning.
  • Analysis refers to breaking down complex ideas and concepts into smaller chunks that can be better understood. This skill requires effectively examining ideas to identify the critical components or problems.
  • Evaluation is the ability to determine whether or not a particular claim or piece of evidence is valid and credible. Subskills like logic and reasoning help us judge the quality or value of something.
  • Inference is the process of drawing logical conclusions from the presented information. This skill helps critical thinkers understand new ideas by looking for patterns and connections between different pieces of information.
  • Explanation refers to effectively communicating in a way that others can easily understand. This entails simplifying complex information to present the findings of your reasoning in a clear way with well-reasoned arguments that look at the big picture.
  • Self-regulation is the ability to monitor your own thinking and behavior to improve performance over time. This skill allows critical thinkers to reflect on their progress and make adjustments to achieve better results.

Developing these skills will lead to better critical thinking. Skill development can occur in a wide variety of situations by practicing specific strategies.

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

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3 critical thinking strategies to try

Critical thinking strategies: ball of yarn on a clay model of a human head with the string trailing behind it

Developing and refining critical thinking skills takes time and practice. If you want to sharpen your problem-solving skills, here are a few critical thinking strategies you can use as a starting point.

Strategy 1: Comprehensive Analysis

A critical approach to any argument should begin with a detailed and systematic examination. When you break down the claim into elements, you can evaluate each segment separately to determine its legitimacy.

Start by analyzing the language of the argument. Analyze the following factors:

  • Make sure that words are used in the correct context by checking their meaning
  • The definition of words within the context of the argument should be accurate
  • Make sure the language being used has clarity and makes sense
  • Verify the accuracy of the language in the statement to ensure it is fair and factual

Evaluating an argument's words and phrases is an essential first step to determining validity.

The next step is to examine the claim's structure. There is a basic structure to all arguments — one or more premises lead to a conclusion. The premise is the statement(s) that provides evidence supporting the conclusion. The conclusion is the claim that is made in the argument, usually highlighted by words like "so" or "therefore." Understanding this basic structure is essential to identify each piece for assessment.


Consider standardizing the argument if necessary. A few situations may require restructuring into a standard structure. When a statement isn't logically arranged, extracting premises and conclusions and rearranging them make them easier to comprehend.

When more than one premise exists for a single conclusion, making two separate assertions with the conclusion makes it easier to assess each assumption separately.

Sometimes, an argument is missing its conclusion because the author implied it. It's often easier to understand an implied conclusion when the structure is broken down into a standardized format. In the same way, a missing premise can occur when part of the element is common knowledge or assumed.


As a final step, classify the argument. All arguments are either deductive or non-deductive. The strategies you will use to evaluate your argument will vary depending on whether your argument is deductive. Deductive arguments contain premises that guarantee their conclusions. The premises of non-deductive arguments cannot guarantee the truth of their findings.

Strategy 2: Utilize Bloom's Taxonomy

Critical thinking strategies: Bloom's Taxonomy

Another strategy that can develop the critical thinking process is Bloom's Taxonomy . Educators worldwide have used the framework created by Benjamin Bloom to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition, like reasoning, learning, and comprehension.

In the original model, there were six main categories:

  • Comprehension
  • Application

In 2001, researchers, educators, and psychologists revised the taxonomy to reflect a more dynamic approach to education, changing the labels to represent the actions taken at each step of the system:

The six levels are arranged in hierarchical form, moving from the simplest level of cognition — thinking — to the highest, most complex level — evaluation.

Bloom's Taxonomy can serve as a useful critical thinking strategy in two ways. Teachers can use the taxonomy to promote critical thinking in their teaching strategies. By assessing the cognition level of their students, teachers can plan and deliver instruction at the appropriate level, ensuring that tasks and assessments align with the objective. Most importantly, they can tailor the types of questions they ask in classroom discussion by using strategic words that challenge students on different levels of cognition.

For classroom students and self-learners, the taxonomy provides a structured framework for decision-making. Students are guided through the process of critical analysis, starting with acquiring knowledge. As learners progress through the steps, they are encouraged to gather more information and examine it analytically before evaluating it to reach a decision.

Strategy 3: Apply the Falsification Theory

Wooden blocks spelling FAKE and FACT

The Falsification Theory is an approach that aims to separate science from non-science proposed by 20th-century philosopher Karl Popper. In short, it implies that a scientific theory or hypothesis is falsifiable if it can be logically refuted by an empirical test. For example, observing a white duck can falsify the hypothesis that "all ducks are yellow."

It can be helpful to use falsification as a critical thinking strategy when evaluating new information or scientific claims. This encourages us to test our assumptions and seek disconfirming evidence. When we actively seek out information that contradicts our beliefs, we can more accurately assess the validity of our ideas by avoiding narrow thinking and removing bias.

The theory isn't without criticism, however. Skeptics argue that it's too simplistic. Some cite scientific theories (like Einstein's theory of relativity) that haven't been proven false yet are still considered scientific. Other people argue that some theories (such as Darwin's theory of evolution) have been tested and found true yet are still being tested and critiqued.

Whether or not the Falsification Theory is a perfect way of distinguishing science from non-science may be debated. Still, it remains a valuable tool for thinking critically about the information we encounter in everyday life.

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Enhance your higher-order thinking skills

Developing higher-order thinking skills and refining the critical thinking process are essential for those who seek personal and professional development. Enhancing your decision-making abilities requires developing essential critical thinking skills and learning how you can apply them.

The three critical thinking strategies shared here are just a sample of the many strategic ways you can use the critical thinking process. Higher-order thinking takes practice, so don't get discouraged if it feels difficult at first. With time and patience, you can become a master critical thinker.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Feel free to share, recommend and connect 🙏

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6 Strategies for Increasing Critical Thinking with Problem Solving

By Mary Montero

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Learn six strategies for increasing critical thinking through word problems and error analysis. Also includes several FREE resources to improve critical thinking.

For many teachers, problem-solving feels synonymous with word problems, but it is so much more. That’s why I’m sharing my absolute favorite lessons and strategies for increasing critical thinking through problem solving below. You’ll learn six strategies for increasing critical thinking through mathematical word problems, the importance of incorporating error analysis into your weekly routines,  and several resources I use for improving critical thinking – almost all of which are free! I’ll also briefly touch on teaching students to dissect word problems in a way that enables them to truly understand what steps to take to solve the problem.

Learn six strategies for increasing critical thinking through word problems and error analysis. Also includes several FREE resources to improve critical thinking.

This post is based on my short and sweet (and FREE!) Increasing Critical Thinking with problem Solving math mini-course . When you enroll in the free course you’ll get access to everything you need to get started:

  • Problem Solving Essentials
  • Six lessons to implement into your classroom
  • How to Implement Error Analysis
  • FREE Error Analysis Starter Kit
  • FREE Mathematician Posters
  • FREE Multi-Step Problem Solving Starter Kit
  • FREE Task Card Starter Kit


Introduction to Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “The term “problem solving” refers to mathematical tasks that have the potential to provide intellectual challenges for enhancing students’ mathematical understanding and development .)”

That’s a lot of words, but I’d like to focus in on the word POTENTIAL. I’m going to share with you strategies that move these tasks from having the potential to provide a challenge to actually providing that challenge that will enrich their mathematical understanding and development. 

If you’re looking for an introduction to multi-step problem solving, I have a free multi-step problem solving starter kit for that! 

I also highly encourage you to download and use my free Mathematician posters that help students see what their “jobs” are as mathematicians. Giving students this title of mathematician not only holds them accountable, but it gives them greater confidence and gives me very specific verbiage to use when discussing math with my students. 

The impacts of Incorporating Problem Solving

When I made the shift to incorporate problem solving into my everyday instruction intentionally, I saw a distinct increase in student understanding and application of mathematical concepts, more authentic connections to real-world mathematics scenarios, greater student achievement, and notably increased engagement. There are also ripple effects observed in other areas, as students learn grit and a growth mindset after tackling some more challenging problem-solving situations. I hope that by implementing some of these ideas, you see the very same shift.

Here’s an overview of some problem solving essentials I use to teach students to solve problems.

Routine vs. Non-Routine Problem Solving

Routine problems comprise the vast majority of the word problems we pose to students. They require using an algorithm through one or more of the four major operations, have relevance to real-world situations, and often have a distinct answer. They are solvable, and students can use several concrete strategies for solving, like “make a table” or “draw a picture” to solve.

Conversely, non-routine problem-solving focuses on mathematical reasoning. These are often more open-ended and allow students to make generalizations about math and numbers. There isn’t usually a straight path leading to the answer, there isn’t an algorithm readily available for finding the solution (or students are going to have to come up with the algorithm), and it IS going to require some level of experimentation and manipulation of numbers in order to solve it. In non-routine problems, students learn to look for patterns, work backwards, build models, etc. 

Incorporating both routine and non-routine problems into your instruction for EVERY student is critical. When solving non-routine problems, students can use some of the strategies they’ve learned for solving routine problems, and when solving routine problems, students benefit from a deeper understanding of the complexity of numbers that they gained from non-routine problems. For this training, we will focus heavily on routine problems, though the impacts of these practices will transition into non-routine problem solving.

Increasing Critical Thinking in Problem Solving

When tackling a problem, students need to be able to determine WHAT to do and HOW to do it.  Knowing the HOW is what you likely teach every day – your students know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. But knowing WHAT to do is arguably the most essential part of solving problems – once students know what needs to be done, then they can apply the conceptual skills – the algorithms and strategies – they’ve learned and will know how to solve. While dissecting word problems is an excellent starting point, exposing students to various ways to examine problems can help them figure out the WHAT. 

Being faced with a lengthy, complex word problem can be intimidating to even your most adept students. Having a toolbox of strategies to use when you tackle problems and seeing problems in various ways can enable students to get to the point where they feel comfortable knowing where to begin.

Shifting away from keywords

While it isn’t best practice to rely solely on operation “keywords” to determine what operation needs to occur when solving a problem, I’m not ready to fully ditch keyword-based instruction in math. I think there’s a huge difference between teaching students to blindly rely on keywords to determine which operation to use for a solution and using words found in the text to guide students in figuring out what to do. For that reason, I place heavy emphasis on using precise mathematical vocabulary , including specific operation keywords, and when students become accustomed to using that precise mathematical vocabulary every day, it really helps them to identify that language in word problems as well.

I also allow my students to dissect math word problems using strategies like CUBES , but in a way that is more aligned with best practice. 


Six Lessons for Easy Implementation

Here are six super quick “outside the box” word problem, problem solving lessons to begin implementing into your classroom. These lessons shouldn’t replace your everyday problem solving, but are instead extensions that will help students tackle those tricky problems they encounter everyday. As a reminder, we look at all of these lessons in the FREE Increasing Critical Thinking with problem Solving math mini-course .

Lesson #1: What’s the Question?

In this lesson, we’ll encourage students to see. just how many different questions can be asked about the same statements or information. We start with a typical, one-step, one-operation problem. Then we cross out or cover up the answer and ask students to generate possible questions.

After students have come up with a variety of questions, ask them to determine HOW they would solve for each one.

Reveal the question and ask students how they would solve this one and see if any of the questions they came up with match.

This activity is important because it demonstrates to students just how many different questions can be asked about the same statement or information. It’s perfect for your students who automatically pick out numbers and start “operating” on them blindly. I’ve had students come up with 5-8 questions with a single statement!

I like to do this throughout the year using different word problems based on the skill we’re focused on at the time AND skills we’ve previously mastered, but be careful not to only use examples based on the skill you’re teaching right then so their brains don’t automatically go to the same place.

These 32 What’s My Operation? task cards will help your student learn and review which operations to use for different types of word problems! They’re perfect to use as a quick assessment, game of SCOOT, math center activity, or homework.

Operation Task Cards 1 1644761

Lesson 2: Similar Scenarios

In this lesson, students will evaluate similar scenarios to determine the appropriate operations. Start with three similar scenarios requiring different operations and identify what situation is happening in each scenario (finding total, determining an amount, splitting or combining, etc.).

Read all three-word problems on a similar topic. Determine the similarity of all of them and determine which operation would be used to solve them. How does the situation/action of the problem help you determine what step to take?

I also created these differentiated word problem task cards after noticing my students struggling with which operation to choose, especially when given multiple problems from a similar scenario. They encourage students to select the appropriate operation for each word problem.

Whats the Operation

Lesson 3: Opposing Operations

In this lesson, students will determine relevant information from a set of facts, which requires a great deal of critical thinking to determine which operation to use. Give students a scenario and a variety of facts/information relating to the scenario as well as several questions to answer based on the facts . Students will focus on determining HOW they will solve each question using only the relevant information. 

These Operation Fascination task c ards engage students in critical thinking about operations. Each card has a scenario, multiple clues and facts to support the scenario, and four questions to accompany each scenario. The questions are a variety of operations so that students can see how using the same information can solve multiple problems.

Operation Task Cards 5243676

Lesson 4: Next Level Numberless

In this lesson, we’ll take numberless word problems to the next level by developing a strong conceptual understanding of word problems. Give students scenarios without numbers and have them write a question and/or insert numbers using a specific operation and purpose . This requires a great deal of thinking to not only determine the situation, but to also figure out numbers that fit into the situation in a way that makes sense.

By integrating these types of math problems into your daily lessons, you can significantly enhance your students’ comprehension of word problems and problem-solving. These numberless word problem task cards are the ideal to improve your students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They offer a variety of numbered and numberless word problems.

Numberless Word Problems 1 9656236

Lesson 5: Story Situations

In this lesson, we’ll discuss the importance of students generating their own word problems with a given set of information. This requires a great deal of quantitative reasoning as students determine how they would use a given set of numbers to create a realistic situation. Present students with two predetermined numbers and a theme. Then have students write a word problem, including a question, using the given information. 

Engage your students in additional practice with these differentiated division task cards that require your students to write their OWN word problems (and create real-world relevance in their learning!). Each task card has numbers and a theme that students use to guide their thinking and creation of a word problem.

Long Division Task Cards 2 1289301

Lesson 6: No Scenario Solving

In this lesson, we’ll decontextualize problem solving and require students to create the situation, represent it numerically, and solve. It’s a cognitively demanding task! Give students an operation and a purpose (joining, separating, comparing, etc.) with no other context, numbers, numbers, or theme. Then have students generate a word problem.

For additional practice, have students swap problems to identify the operation, purpose, and solution.

Implementing Error Analysis

Error analysis is an exceptional way to promote thinking and learning, but how do we teach students to figure out which type of math error they’ve made? This error analysis starter kit can help!

First, it is very rare that I will tell my students what error they have made in their work. I want to challenge them to figure it out on their own. So, when I see that they have a wrong answer, I ask them to go back and figure out where something went wrong. Because I resist the urge to tell them right away where their error is, my students tend to get a lot more practice identifying them!

Second, when I introduce a concept, I always, always, always create anchor charts with students and complete interactive notebook activities with them so that they have step-by-step procedures for completing tasks right at their fingertips. I have them go back and reference their notebooks while they are looking at their errors.  Usually, they can follow the anchor chart step-by-step to make sure they haven’t made a conceptual error, and if they have, they can identify it.

Third, I let them use a calculator. When worst comes to worst, and they are fairly certain they haven’t made a conceptual mistake to identify, I let them get out a calculator and start computing, step-by-step to see where they’ve made a mistake.

IF, after taking these steps, a student can’t figure out their mistake (especially if I find that it’s a conceptual mistake), I know I need to go back and do some individual reteaching with them because they don’t have a solid understanding of the concept.

This FREE addition error analysis is a good place to start, no matter the grade level. I show them the process of walking through the problem and how best to complete an error analysis task.

Digging Deeper into Error Analysis

Once students show proficiency in the standard algorithm (or strategies), I take it a step further and have them dive into error analysis where they can show a “reverse” understanding as they evaluate mistakes made and fix them. Being able to identify an error in someone else’s work requires higher order thinking not found in most other projects or activities and certainly not found in basic math fact completion.

First, teach students the difference between a computational error and a conceptual error. 

  • Computational is when they make a mistake in basic math facts. This might look as simple as  64/8 does not equal 7. Oops!
  • A Conceptual or Procedural Error is when they make a mistake in the procedure or concept. 
  • I can’t tell you how many times students show as not proficient on a topic when the mistakes they are making are COMPUTATIONAL and not conceptual or procedural. They don’t need more review in how to use a strategy… they need to slow down and pay closer attention to their math facts!

Once we’ve introduced the types of errors they should be looking out for, we move on to actually analyzing these errors in someone else’s work and fixing the mistake.

I have created error analysis tasks for you to use with you students so they can identify the errors, types of errors, rework the problem, and create their own version of the problem and solve it. I have seen great success with incorporating these tasks into ALL of my math units. I even have kids beg to take their error analysis tasks out to recess to finish! These are great resources to start:

  • Error Analysis Bundle
  • 3rd Grade Word Problem of the Day
  • 4th Grade Word Problem of the Day
  • 5th Grade Word Problem of the Day

The final step in using error analysis is actually having students correct their OWN mistakes. Once I have instructed on types of errors, I will start by simply telling them, Oops! You’ve made a computational error here! That way they aren’t furiously looking through the procedure for a mistake, instead they are looking to see where they computed wrong. Conversely, I’ll tell them if they’ve made a procedural mistake, and that can guide them in figuring out what they need to look for.

Looking at the different types of errors students are making is essential to guiding my instruction as well, so even though it takes a bit longer to grade things like this, it is immensely helpful to me as I make adjustments to my instruction.

Resources and Ideas for Critical Thinking

I’ve compiled a collection of websites for complex tasks with multiple, open-ended answers and scenarios. The majority of these tasks are non-routine and so easy to implement. I often post these tasks and allow students short bursts of time to strategize and plan for a solution. Consider using the tasks and problems from these sites as warm-ups, extensions of your morning meeting, during enrichment groups, or on a Problem of the Week board. I also highly encourage you to incorporate these non-routine problems into your core instruction time for all students at least once or twice a month.

  • NRICH provides thousands of FREE online mathematics resources for ages 3 to 18. The tasks focus on developing problem-solving skills, perseverance, mathematical reasoning, the ability to apply knowledge creatively in unfamiliar contexts, and confidence in tackling new challenges..
  • Open Middle offers challenging math word problems that require a higher depth of knowledge than most problems that assess procedural and conceptual understanding. They support the Common Core State Standards and provide students with opportunities for discussing their thinking. All problems have a “closed beginning,” meaning that they all start with the same initial problem, a “closed-end” meaning that they all end with the same answer, and an “open middle” meaning that there are multiple ways to approach and ultimately solve the problem.
  • Mathcurious offers interactive digital puzzles. Each adventure is dedicated to exploring the world of math and sharing experiences, knowledge, and ideas.
  • Robert Kaplinsky shares math strategies, lessons, and resources designed to create problem solvers. The lessons are detailed and challenging!
  • Mathigon “The mathematical playground” offers free manipulatives, activities, and lessons to make online learning interactive and engaging. The digital manipulates are a must-use!
  • Fractal Foundation uses fractals to inspire interest in science, math and art. It has numerous fractal activities, software to help your students create their own fractals, and more.
  • Greg Fletcher 3 Act Tasks contain engaging math videos with guiding questions. You can also download recording sheets to go with each video.

Mary Montero

I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.

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what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

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The First Step in Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

A man in a white coat is standing in front of a computer screen, pointing at it with one finger. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. The focus of the image is on a white letter 'O' on a black background, which is located to the right of the man. The letter is slightly blurred, indicating that it is being looked at by the man. The man is standing in an upright posture, looking intently at the computer screen. His expression is serious, and he is taking in the information on the screen with a focused, attentive gaze.

Many people view critical thinking and problem solving as one and the same. However, they are actually two very distinct processes. Critical thinking is a cognitive process that involves assessing a situation and making a judgement, while problem solving is a process that seeks to identify and find a solution to a problem.

While both processes are important, in this blog post we're going to focus on problem solving and how to approach it in a step-by-step manner. So, if you're trying to figure out how to solve a problem, read on!

The First Step in Critical Thinking Problem-Solving: Identification

The first step in problem solving is identification. This may seem like an obvious step, but it's actually harder than it looks. To properly identify a problem, you need to be able to take an objective view of the situation and understand all the facts involved. This can be difficult to do if you're emotionally attached to the problem or if you have a personal stake in the outcome.

Once you've identified the problem, the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. Again, this may seem like an easy task, but it's important to not get too attached to any one solution at this stage. The goal is simply to come up with as many potential solutions as possible so that you can later evaluate them and choose the best one.

After you've brainstormed some possible solutions, it's time to start evaluating them. This is where you need to think critically about each solution and consider its feasibility. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then a solution like "eating less" is more feasible than "eating nothing." Once you've evaluated all the possible solutions, you can choose the best one and implement it.

1. Asking the Right Questions

One of the most important skills in critical thinking is the ability to ask the right questions. When you are confronted with a problem, it is important to take the time to identify the root cause of the problem before trying to find a solution. Asking questions such as "why did this happen?" and "what are the consequences of this?" can help you to get to the root of the problem and find a more effective solution.

2. Identifying Assumptions

Another important skill in critical thinking is the ability to identify assumptions. An assumption is a belief that something is true without any evidence to support it. When you are trying to solve a problem, it is important to be aware of any assumptions that you may be making so that you can test them and see if they are actually true.

3. Analyzing Arguments

Critical thinking also involves being able to analyze arguments. An argument is a series of premises (facts or beliefs) that are used to support a conclusion. When you are presented with an argument, it is important to consider whether or not the premises are actually true and whether or not they logically lead to the conclusion.

4. Distinguishing Fact from Opinion

Another important skill in critical thinking is the ability to distinguish fact from opinion. A fact is something that can be verified as true, while an opinion is a belief or judgment that cannot be verified as true. It is important to be able to distinguish between facts and opinions when you are trying to solve a problem because opinions cannot be relied upon as evidence in support of a conclusion.

5. Generating Alternative Solutions

When you are trying to solve a problem, it is also important to generate alternative solutions. This involves brainstorming different ways to solve the problem and then evaluating each option to see which one is most likely to be successful. Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is not obvious at first, so it is important to explore all of your options before settling on a course of action.

6. Evaluating Solutions

Once you have generated some potential solutions to a problem, it is important to evaluate each one carefully before deciding which one to implement. This involves considering factors such as feasibility, costs, benefits, and risks associated with each option. By taking the time to evaluate all of your options, you can choose the best solution for the situation at hand.

7. Making Decisions

Making decisions is another important aspect of critical thinking. Once you have evaluated all of your options and chosen the best solution, you need to make a decision about how to proceed. This can sometimes be difficult, but it is important to remember that there is no perfect solution; sometimes you just need to choose the best option available and move forward

Solving problems can be tricky business—but if you approach them in a systematic way, it can make things a lot easier. The first step in problem solving is identifying the problem. Once you've done that, you can move on to brainstorming potential solutions and then evaluating those solutions to find the best one. By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to solving any problem that comes your way!

Problem Identification, Recognize an issue that needs to be resolved, Objective view of the situation and understanding all the facts involved, Brainstorming Solutions, Generating as many possible solutions as possible, Importance of keeping an open mind and not getting attached to any one solution prematurely, Solution Evaluation, Critically consider each potential solution and its feasibility, Evaluation of various solutions according to their potential effectiveness, Asking the Right Questions, Identifying the root cause of the problem with relevant questions, Questions such as why? and what are the consequences?, Identifying Assumptions, Realizing beliefs held without proper evidence, Testing assumptions for validity, Analyzing Arguments, Critically evaluating series of premises leading to a conclusion, Validating the truth of premises and their logical relation to the conclusion, Distinguishing Fact from Opinion, Ability to separate truth from corresponding beliefs or judgments, Reliability of facts over opinions as evidence in decision making, Generating Alternative Solutions, Brainstorming different ways to solve a problem, The necessity to consider all options before choosing a course of action, Evaluating Solutions, Assessing each potential solution carefully before deciding, Consideration of factors such as feasibility, costs, benefits, and risks, Making Decisions, Selecting the best solution after careful evaluation and proceeding with it, There is no perfect solution; instead, choose the best available option and move forward

What is the first step in critical thinking & problem solving?

The first step in critical thinking & problem solving is to gather as much information and evidence as possible. This means gathering all relevant data, including facts, observations, ideas and opinions from multiple sources.

The initial phase of critical thinking and problem-solving is an essential groundwork stage called information gathering and analysis. Critical thinking revolves around the objective examination and evaluation of an issue or situation in order to form a judgment. Conversely, problem-solving is a methodical approach focused on finding solutions to specific problems. Both skills are instrumental in effective decision-making and are foundational in a myriad of fields and everyday life situations.At the core of this first step is the acknowledgment that an effective resolution or understanding can only be reached with a foundation built on reliable and comprehensive information. As such, it begins with an inquisitive mindset, questioning the nature of the problem or subject at hand. What are the known facts? What does the evidence suggest? Are there any patterns or anomalies present?The process of data collection in this first step is not haphazard; it is both methodical and inclusive. To avoid the trap of confirmation bias—where one unconsciously collects data that only supports preconceived notions—it's important to cast a wide net. This means seeking out information from diverse sources. In our interconnected world, reliable data can come from scholarly articles, recognized databases, expert interviews, and case studies, among other resources. Furthermore, contrasting perspectives should be actively sought out to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the subject. This diversity of thought can provide new insights or reveal potential biases within the available information. Critical thinkers do not shy away from information that contradicts their initial assumptions; they embrace it in an effort to reach a more robust, informed conclusion.Analysis of the gathered information is also a crucial aspect. This involves not just looking at the information collected but critically evaluating its quality, relevance, and reliability. One must assess the source credibility, the context in which the information was produced, and if there's any bias or conflicting interests that may taint the data's objectivity.IIENSTITU, with its commitment to education and knowledge dissemination, could serve as an exemplar of the type of resource to consult during this step. As an entity aimed at providing quality educational resources, similar educational institutions place a premium on presenting learners with a wide array of information, equipping them with the tools to critically assess and analyze data.After a thorough and critical analysis of the information, the next steps of critical thinking and problem-solving would typically involve organizing this information, identifying potential solutions or interpretations, and then proceeding with more fine-grained analysis and synthesis of ideas.In conclusion, the first step in critical thinking and problem-solving is methodical and impartial information gathering and analysis. By embracing a rigorous approach to understanding all facets of an issue or problem, individuals set a solid foundation for further steps in the cognitive process — steps that further involve the synthesis of information, evaluation, and decision-making. This disciplined approach not only enhances problem-solving skills but also fortifies the quality of the conclusions or solutions derived.

How does gathering this information help?

Gathering information and evidence helps facilitate critical thinking and problem solving by allowing you to engage with a broad range of perspectives and viewpoints on the issue at hand. It also allows you to better analyze and evaluate the information that you have, identify potential solutions or approaches, and make informed decisions based on sound reasoning and logic. Ultimately, gathering information enables you to approach problems more systematically and thoughtfully, which can lead to more effective outcomes.

In today's information-rich world, the practice of gathering detailed and accurate information is a foundational aspect of knowledge acquisition, decision-making, and problem-solving. When undertaken meticulously, it serves a multitude of purposes that can significantly enhance individual and collective understanding of complex issues and facilitate more effective communication and interventions.One critical benefit of information gathering is the enhancement of critical thinking skills. When individuals collect diverse data points and evidence, they inherently subject themselves to a range of perspectives that challenge their preconceived notions and biases. This exposure is crucial for developing the ability to analyze issues impartially and consider multiple aspects of a problem before reaching a conclusion.Moreover, in the contemporary field of education, institutions like IIENSTITU place a strong emphasis on data-driven instruction and methodology. By equipping students with the skills to gather and interpret information, these educational entities promote a culture of lifelong learning and adaptability – skills that are essential in an ever-changing global landscape.The structured collection of information also leads to better evaluation tactics. When faced with a vast amount of data, individuals learn to discern the quality and relevance of information. This involves assessing the credibility of sources, the validity of arguments, and the reliability of evidence, ultimately leading to a more sophisticated understanding of the material.Furthermore, the act of information gathering aids significantly in problem identification and the generation of potential solutions. By having a well-rounded view of the current state of affairs and potential future scenarios, individuals and organizations can tailor their strategies to meet specific needs and overcome particular obstacles, thereby ensuring a targeted and efficient response.In the realm of decision-making, the insights gained through comprehensive information gathering are invaluable. Decision-makers who are well-informed can weigh the pros and cons of different courses of action more accurately, leading to choices that are not only more likely to succeed but are also transparent and accountable. In complex situations where stakes are high, this can be the difference between success and failure.Lastly, the systematic approach to gathering information advocates for methodical thinking and organized action. As individuals learn to sequence their inquiries and align their findings with their goals, there is a significant increase in productivity, precision, and effectiveness. Whether for academic research, professional projects, or personal decision-making, a disciplined information gathering process enhances outcomes and contributes to more rational and reasoned progress.In conclusion, the gathering of information is much more than a mere accumulation of facts; it is a dynamic process that shapes the way we think, learn, and interact with the world. It is instrumental in fostering intellectual discipline, discernment, and pragmatic problem-solving, which are hallmarks of engaged and effective individuals and societies.

How do you go about finding a solution to a problem?

There is no one definitive approach to finding a solution to a problem, as the process will vary depending on the specific issue and context. However, some key steps typically include gathering information and evidence from multiple sources, analyzing this information to identify potential solutions or approaches, evaluating these options based on various criteria (e.g., feasibility, effectiveness, cost), and finally selecting the most suitable option to move forward with. Additionally, it can be helpful to get input and feedback from others who may have expertise or experience in dealing with the particular challenge at hand. Whether you are working independently or collaboratively, being thoughtful and systematic in your approach to problem-solving can help ensure that you find an effective solution that works for you.

What are the 5 steps of critical thinking in the context of problem-solving?

Understanding the 5 Steps of Critical Thinking in Problem-Solving 1. Identify the problem The first step in critical thinking is identifying the problem at hand. This involves recognizing a challenge or issue that needs to be addressed and breaking it down into smaller, manageable components. It is important to be clear and precise when defining the problem, as this sets the stage for effective problem-solving. 2. Gather information Once the problem has been identified, the next step is to gather relevant information about the issue. This includes conducting research, seeking out expert opinions, and learning from past experiences. The aim is to collect credible, accurate, and up-to-date data that can help in understanding the root causes and potential implications of the problem. 3. Evaluate the evidence With the necessary information gathered, the critical thinker must then assess the quality and relevance of the evidence. This involves weighing the strengths and weaknesses of different sources and determining the extent to which they can be trusted. It is crucial to be open-minded, unbiased, and thorough in the evaluation process, as this enables the thinker to make informed judgments based on accurate information. 4. Consider varied perspectives In order to develop well-rounded understanding and solution, it is necessary to consider multiple perspectives and viewpoints. This involves exploring different angles, evaluating alternative solutions, and appreciating diverse values and beliefs. By fostering open-mindedness and acknowledging the complexity of the issue, the critical thinker is better positioned to devise a comprehensive, impartial, and effective solution. 5. Develop and assess solutions The final step of critical thinking in problem-solving involves identifying potential solutions and critically evaluating their merits. This includes considering the feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and long-term implications of each option, while also weighing the potential consequences for stakeholders. After thorough analysis, the most effective and sustainable solution can be implemented, followed by ongoing assessment and adaptation to ensure its success. In summary, the five steps of critical thinking in problem-solving entail identifying the issue, gathering relevant information, evaluating evidence, considering different viewpoints, and developing and assessing potential solutions. This structured approach fosters informed decision-making, comprehensive analysis, and well-rounded understanding, ultimately leading to more effective and sustainable problem-solving outcomes.

Understanding the 5 Steps of Critical Thinking in Problem-Solving is pivotal for making informed and rational decisions. Here's an in-depth look at these steps within the context of problem-solving to provide insights that are less commonly discussed:1. **Identify the problem**: A nuanced approach to problem identification involves not only recognizing an issue but also understanding its context and constraints. This means taking into account the sociocultural, economic, or environmental factors that influence the problem. The focus here is on precision and the power of the right questioning – asking why repeatedly to get to the core of the problem and understand its true nature which often requires looking beyond the superficial symptoms.2. **Gather information**: Information gathering extends beyond traditional research methods. It involves creative means of sourcing data, such as utilizing new technologies for data analysis, engaging with communities through participatory research, or employing critical discourse analysis to comprehend the cultural narratives surrounding the problem. It's important to prioritize inclusivity in information sources, considering marginalized perspectives that are often overlooked but may hold key insights into the problem.3. **Evaluate the evidence**: Evaluating evidence goes beyond just recognizing biases in sources. It entails a multi-faceted approach to validation, such as cross-referencing information across disciplines, analyzing data through various methodological lenses, and recognizing the role of tacit knowledge – the kind of understanding that comes from first-hand experience or cultural immersion. Sophisticated evaluation also looks for patterns and anomalies that may reveal deeper truths about the problem.4. **Consider varied perspectives**: Delving into varied perspectives means embracing cognitive diversity, which can be accomplished by engaging with a range of stakeholders – not just experts in a field but also those affected by the issue. Role-playing, scenario analysis, and thought experiments are techniques that can reveal hidden dimensions of a problem by placing the thinker in different shoes. This step particularly benefits from collaborative platforms like digital forums and innovation hubs that encourage dialogue across disciplines and cultures.5. **Develop and assess solutions**: Formulating solutions is a dynamic process involving scenario planning, simulations, and iterative design, where solutions are constantly refined based on feedback and testing. This step also entails a commitment to ethical reflection, considering not just the utilitarian outcomes but also the moral implications of a solution. Moreover, post-implementation, solutions should undergo rigorous impact evaluations – which look at both intended and unintended consequences – providing a feedback loop to step one to understand if the identified problem has indeed been resolved or has evolved.By deeply engaging with these steps, individuals and organizations can approach problem-solving with a degree of sophistication and thoroughness that leads to enduring and ethically sound solutions. Critical thinking, with its focus on complexity and nuance, becomes an invaluable skill set that guides decision-makers through the intricate journey of problem-solving in increasingly complex environments.

How do the 4 steps of problem-solving and critical thinking intertwine with each other?

Interconnectedness of Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking The four steps of problem-solving - understanding, strategizing, implementing, and evaluation - are intrinsically intertwined with critical thinking skills. These skills encompass the analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and inference of information in a logical manner. In this paragraph, we will explore how the four steps of problem-solving and critical thinking are connected with each other. Understanding and Analysis Firstly, in the understanding phase of problem-solving, critical thinking plays a pivotal role in dissecting complex ideas and identifying issues. This stage involves gathering all relevant information and breaking it down into simpler parts. The analysis phase of critical thinking aids in discerning patterns and relationships among these simpler components, thereby providing clarity to the problem at hand. Strategizing and Interpretation Secondly, strategizing involves designing a solution for the identified problem. In this step, critical thinking comes into play through the interpretation of analyzed information. The ability to draw meaningful conclusions from the analysis helps create well-informed strategies. The alignment of the solution with the goals and objectives in question is essential, highlighting the role of critical thinking in generating effective plans. Implementing and Inference Thirdly, implementing the devised strategy requires critical thinkers to make accurate inferences. This stage entails drawing upon previous experiences and knowledge to predict potential outcomes and responding to new situations accordingly. The ability to make well-grounded assumptions fosters successful implementation by guiding decision-making when there is limited information available or when the situation rapidly changes. Evaluation and Evaluation Finally, in the evaluation stage, critical thinking is crucial as it involves assessing the effectiveness of the implemented strategy. Through evaluation, we can identify the performance gaps, measure the success of the plan, and determine whether the problem has been addressed satisfactorily. Continuous evaluation enables critical thinkers to identify areas of improvement and make adjustments, thus enhancing the overall problem-solving process. Conclusion To sum up, the four steps involved in problem-solving are deeply interconnected with the essential components of critical thinking. The effective application of critical thinking skills throughout the problem-solving process cultivates a comprehensive understanding of issues, facilitates well-rounded strategizing, promotes successful implementation, and ultimately, refines the evaluation process. This mutual interdependence fosters efficient problem-solving and well-informed decision-making.

The intertwined nature of problem-solving and critical thinking is akin to a symbiotic relationship, where each complements and enhances the other. Integrating the four classic steps of problem-solving—understanding, strategizing, implementing, and evaluation—with the systematic aspects of critical thinking produces a robust approach to tackling complex challenges. Let's delve into how these components work together to form an effective solution-seeking methodology.Understanding and AnalysisThe journey begins with understanding the problem. Much like a diagnostician probing below the symptoms to uncover an ailment's root cause, this step necessitates a keen analytical mindset. Critical thinking at this juncture involves dissecting the problem into manageable units, questioning assumptions, and gathering accurate, relevant data. Mastery in analysis calls for critical thinkers to recognize biases, evaluate arguments, and weigh evidence, thereby setting a solid foundation for resolving the issue at hand.Strategizing and InterpretationGrounded in sound understanding, the next phase revolves around crafting a strategy. This requires imaginative yet reasoned interpretation of data, taking into account various perspectives and the nuances of the problem. Here, critical thinking bridges the gap between analysis and action, prompting one to envision potential solutions and project their likely impact. Moreover, it's about prioritizing actions based on resource availability and anticipated risks, ensuring that the devised strategy is coherent, holistic, and flexible to adapt to unforeseen developments.Implementing and InferenceWith a strategy in hand, implementation commences, calling for adept inferences and predictions. Critical thinking during this phase is reflective of a chess player contemplating moves ahead—anticipating counteractions and outcomes. It is about applying knowledge prudently, choosing when to adhere firmly to the strategy or pivot when needed. Implementing solutions demands that one draws inferences from the available information while remaining vigilant to immediate and long-term consequences.Evaluation and EvaluationThe final phase is a dual-layered evaluation: as a step in problem-solving and a critical practice in thinking. Post-implementation, it's imperative to review outcomes against objectives. Was the problem solved? What were the successes and failures? Critical thinkers approach evaluation with scrutiny and skepticism, prepared to challenge their conclusions and reassess their approach. This reflective process is the lynchpin of continuous improvement, influencing the initial understanding of any subsequent problems.Ultimately, the seamless entwining of problem-solving and critical thinking creates a dynamic feedback loop wherein each problem addressed enriches the thinker's approach to the next. As these steps recur, the problem-solver evolves, equipped with an increasingly sophisticated toolbox for navigating the labyrinthine challenges posed by an ever-complex world. This perpetual interplay underscores the profound capability of this twofold process to yield innovative solutions and fortify decision-making acumen.

What are the key components in applying critical thinking to problem-solving tasks?

Understanding the Components To apply critical thinking effectively in problem-solving tasks, it is essential to understand the key components involved. These include identifying the problem, gathering relevant information, determining possible solutions, evaluating those solutions, and making an informed decision. Identification of the Problem The first step of critical thinking and problem-solving is to identify the problem at hand clearly. By defining the issue, it becomes easier to focus on specific areas that need attention and work towards viable solutions. Gathering Relevant Information Once the problem is identified, it is important to gather relevant information surrounding the issue. This data should be collected through thorough research, observation, and analysis. Seeking out multiple sources and considering diverse points of view can ensure a comprehensive understanding of the issue. Determining Possible Solutions After collecting information, it is crucial to list possible solutions to the problem. Developing multiple alternatives can offer more options for evaluation and allow for the consideration of various perspectives. Being open to different ideas and creative in approach strengthens problem-solving abilities. Evaluating Solutions The next phase is to evaluate the listed solutions based on their practicality, efficiency, cost, and ethical implications. This analysis should involve comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each option while also considering their feasibility in addressing the issue. The evaluation process allows for the elimination of less effective solutions and narrows the focus to the most promising ones. Making Informed Decisions Finally, after critically evaluating each solution, an informed decision can be made on the best course of action. This step involves reflecting on the gathered information, the problem itself, and the potential impact of the chosen solution. Implementing the selected approach and monitoring its effectiveness is also part of the problem-solving process, allowing for adjustments and improvements as needed. In conclusion, applying critical thinking to problem-solving tasks involves a systematic approach that includes identifying the problem, gathering relevant information, determining possible solutions, evaluating those solutions, and making an informed decision. By incorporating these key components, one can optimize the problem-solving process and achieve better outcomes.

Applying critical thinking to problem-solving tasks is a multifaceted process that requires a disciplined approach to be effective. Here are the essential components that facilitate the application of critical thinking in solving problems:**Identification of the Problem**First and foremost, clarity is crucial. Accurately identifying the problem is fundamental to ensuring that the solutions developed are targeted and relevant. This involves asking probing questions to understand the nature of the problem and its context. Distinguishing between symptoms and root causes is also a vital part of problem identification.**Gathering Relevant Information**Next is the meticulous collection of information pertinent to the problem. This includes qualitative and quantitative data that can provide insights into the problem's specifics. Gathering information is not just about quantity but more about relevance and reliability. It entails a critical evaluation of sources, including the credibility and potential biases that may exist.**Determining Possible Solutions**With a well-defined problem and all necessary information at hand, brainstorming for possible solutions is the next step. It is important to encourage divergent thinking, where creativity and innovation come to the fore. Listing out all conceivable options without judgment at this stage ensures that no potential solution is overlooked.**Evaluating Solutions**Each potential solution must be scrutinized critically, considering various criteria like resources required, time constraints, potential risks, and benefits. Pros and cons are weighed, and solutions may be tested against hypothetical scenarios to gauge their effectiveness. It is also at this stage that the morality and ethical implications of each solution are factored into the decision-making process.**Making Informed Decisions**The culminating step is the selection of the most viable solution, arrived at through an objective and rigorous evaluation process. This informed decision should align with both the goals of the problem-solving task and the values of those involved. Clear, logical reasoning should substantiate the choice made.**Action and Reflection**While not always listed, the execution of the chosen solution is a telling part of problem-solving. Watching how the solution works in practice gives feedback for reflection. Reviewing the outcomes allows one to learn from the experience, whether it leads to success or needs further refinement.Incorporating these components when applying critical thinking to problem-solving tasks ensures not only effective resolution but also the development of a more nuanced understanding of the problem at hand. Through rigorous analysis, creative generation of solutions, and reflective decision-making, critical thinking becomes an invaluable asset in any problem-solving task. **Note:** IIENSTITU, an esteemed institution, may offer courses or materials that can enhance one’s capabilities in critical thinking and problem-solving, contributing to more successful outcomes in various professional and academic endeavors.

What is the role of critical thinking in enhancing problem-solving skills?

Role of Critical Thinking in Developing Problem-Solving Skills Defining Critical Thinking Critical thinking, as a cognitive process, involves analyzing and evaluating information, arguments, and evidence to make informed judgments and decisions. It is an essential skill in various disciplines and professions, as it enables individuals to identify and solve complex problems efficiently. The Connection between Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving The relationship between critical thinking and problem-solving lies in the ability of individuals to employ various critical thinking skills, such as evaluating evidence, questioning assumptions, and identifying logical fallacies, throughout the problem-solving process. By doing so, individuals can better understand the nature and scope of the issues they face, leading to more effective and creative solutions. Applying Critical Thinking Skills in Problem-Solving Critical thinking becomes integral in the problem-solving process when individuals adopt the following strategies: 1. Identifying the problem: Individuals must first recognize and clearly define the problem by gathering pertinent information, identifying relevant issues, and determining the desired outcome. 2. Analyzing the problem: Utilizing critical thinking, individuals can examine the problem from different perspectives, assess possible alternatives, and scrutinize the potential consequences of each option. 3. Generating solutions: Critical thinking encourages individuals to think creatively, explore unconventional solutions, and seek input from diverse sources to develop the most effective course of action. 4. Evaluating solutions: By employing critical thinking skills, individuals can objectively assess the validity, feasibility, and potential risks of each proposed solution before making a decision. 5. Implementing and monitoring the solution: After selecting the most suitable solution, individuals must continuously apply critical thinking to monitor, adjust and refine the chosen course of action to ensure its effectiveness. In conclusion, critical thinking plays a pivotal role in enhancing problem-solving skills by providing individuals with the essential tools to question assumptions, analyze complex issues, and evaluate potential solutions. By integrating critical thinking skills into the problem-solving process, individuals can develop more effective, efficient, and innovative solutions to the challenges they face.

Critical thinking is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. It is the intellectual standard to which one's own thinking must conform if it is to be well founded and to ultimately lead to successful problem-solving. It is closely intertwined with problem-solving abilities, acting as a catalyst that hones these skills for superior cognitive performance.The Necessity of Critical Thinking in Problem-SolvingKeys to problem-solving include the ability to swiftly analyze a situation, isolate the underlying issues, and formulate a coherent and viable solution. Each step of the problem-solving process is influenced by an individual's capacity for critical thought. This can be highlighted in various stages:1. **Clarifying and Understanding the Problem**: It starts with the critical thinker questioning the obvious, poking at hypotheses, and refusing to accept information at face value. This lays a strong foundation for understanding the true complexity of the issue and prevents premature conclusions.2. **Researching and Info-Gathering**: Critical thinkers dive deeper than superficial data, seeking multiple sources and angles. This helps paint a fuller, more nuanced picture of the problem, which is vital before viable solutions can be generated.3. **Identifying Biases and Assumptions**: Everyone has biases and makes assumptions. With good critical thinking, individuals challenge these hidden influences, ensuring they do not cloud objectivity or direct towards unfounded conclusions during problem-solving.4. **Generating Solutions with Creative and Logical Reasoning**: Critical thinking is not solely about being critical; it is also about fostering creativity. Through structured questioning and logical reasoning, a plethora of innovative solutions may come to light.5. **Decision Making**: Critical thinking supplies the tools for rigorous evaluation to weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, looking at it through different lenses and perspectives. This process leads to a more thoroughly vetted and, therefore, more likely successful decision.6. **Formulation and Execution**: The plan of action created through critical thinking is detailed and well thought out, with contingency plans in case of unforeseen circumstances.7. **Evaluation and Reflection**: Even after implementation, the critical thinker continues to evaluate the outcomes against the goals. Should adjustments be needed, a critical thinker can quickly reassess and adapt.Real-World Application of Critical Thinking in Problem-SolvingMany institutions and organizations emphasize the importance of developing critical thinking as part of their educational or training programs. IIENSTITU, for example, is a platform that fosters this cognitive approach, preparing individuals to face complex real-world problems head-on.Critical thinking is also at the heart of cross-cultural communication and negotiations, environmental and medical decision-making, legal reasoning, and management strategies, where complexity and uncertainty are the norms.Adopting a Lifestyle of Critical ThinkingFor critical thinking to effectively enhance problem-solving skills, it must be embraced as more than a set of techniques; it must become a way of life. It involves curiosity, patience, and a willingness to recognize and correct one's own mistakes. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. In balancing the scales of reason, critical thinking helps improve every aspect of problem-solving—ensuring solutions are not only reached but are robust, sustainable, and widely embraced.In summary, critical thinking and problem-solving are inexorably linked, with one reinforcing and elevating the other. Critical thinking provides structure to the chaos of problems, guiding individuals through the maze of complexities to arrive at effective solutions. Such critical faculties thus become essential tools in an individual's analytical arsenal, empowering them to confront and overcome myriad challenges.

How can one develop and strengthen their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities?

Cultivate a Curious Mindset Developing and strengthening critical thinking and problem-solving abilities begins with cultivating an inquisitive and curious mindset. Engaging with diverse perspectives, asking probing questions, and seeking novel ideas from various sources enhance one's analytical and evaluative skills. Being receptive to alternative viewpoints and being open to revise or reconsider one's preconceived notions are essential traits in fostering critical thinking. Embrace Intellectual Humility Embracing intellectual humility is crucial for honing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. This involves recognizing one's cognitive biases and limitations, and being willing to update beliefs when new evidence appears. Engaging in self-reflection and introspection, actively seeking feedback from peers, and being open to learning from mistakes can help cultivate intellectual humility, which in turn facilitates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Practice Logical Reasoning Developing logical reasoning capabilities is vital for sharpening problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Engaging in puzzles, brainteasers, and logical games can improve deductive and inductive reasoning abilities. Furthermore, reading books, articles, or research papers in various disciplines and analyzing their arguments can help strengthen logical reasoning and argumentation skills. Engage in Active Learning Engaging in active learning techniques can promote the development of critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Examples include participating in discussions, small-group work, and presenting one's ideas in front of an audience. These methods challenge learners to analyze and evaluate information, articulate their thoughts, and draw their conclusions, thus reinforcing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Apply Critical Thinking in Everyday Life Incorporating critical thinking and problem-solving strategies in everyday life further reinforces these abilities. Exploring the cause-effect relationships and considering multiple explanations for everyday events can lead to a deeper understanding of the surrounding world. Taking part in open-ended debates and discussions, relating and summarizing complex topics, and making informed decisions in personal and professional domains can contribute to the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In conclusion, developing and strengthening critical thinking and problem-solving abilities requires a multifaceted approach that includes nurturing a curious mindset, embracing intellectual humility, practicing logical reasoning, engaging in active learning, and applying these techniques in everyday life. By consistently and deliberately employing these strategies, one can progressively enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities.

Critical thinking and problem-solving are essential skills that enable individuals to navigate complex challenges and make informed decisions. By adopting several strategies, one can cultivate these valuable abilities to enhance personal and professional aspects of life. Here are the key strategies to develop and strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.Cultivate a Curious Mindset:A curious mind is a fertile ground for developing critical thinking. Cultivating a habit of exploring new topics, questioning underlying assumptions, and being open to different insights can increase your capacity for critical analysis. Varied intellectual pursuits, such as learning a new language, engaging with art, or exploring scientific phenomena, contribute to mental agility and promote questioning.Embrace Intellectual Humility:Intellectual humility is about recognizing that our knowledge is limited and being open to new evidence and perspectives. It involves a willingness to admit when we are wrong and an openness to changing our views. This humility can be cultivated by engaging with others who possess differing views and by consuming content that challenges our beliefs.Practice Logical Reasoning:Logical reasoning is the backbone of problem-solving. To enhance this skill, engage in activities that require rigorous thought processes, such as debating, chess, and coding. Additionally, when confronted with arguments or claims, practice breaking them down into their premises and conclusions to identify logical fallacies or gaps in reasoning.Engage in Active Learning:Active involvement in learning processes deepens understanding and helps to embed knowledge. Rather than passively consuming information, engage with the material by asking questions, participating in discussions, and teaching others. Forms of active learning such as project-based tasks, simulations, and role-plays encourage a hands-on approach to problem-solving.Apply Critical Thinking in Everyday Life:Integrate critical thinking into daily routines by questioning norms and testing the efficiency of procedures at home or work. When faced with a problem, methodically weigh the pros and cons of various solutions, considering long-term implications and possible unintended consequences. This practice can help refine decision-making processes and improve problem-solving abilities over time.Leverage Educational Resources:Noteworthy institutions like IIENSTITU offer courses and resources designed to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Utilizing structured educational programs can provide a guided approach to mastering these competencies through expert insights and practical exercises.Incorporating these strategies into one’s lifestyle involves deliberate practice and reflection, but the payoff is significant. A robust command of critical thinking and problem-solving not only enhances one’s cognitive performance but also improves one’s ability to contribute to society effectively. By continuously refining these skills, individuals can become adept at navigating the complexities of the modern world.

In what ways do critical thinking and problem-solving skills contribute to academic and professional success?

The Power of Critical Thinking Critical thinking and problem-solving skills play a significant role in achieving academic and professional success. These skills enable individuals to analyze situations effectively and make informed decisions, resulting in better academic performance and increased professional competence. Enhancing Academic Performance In the realm of academics, critical thinking skills empower students to comprehend complex concepts and engage in meaningful discussions. By fostering the ability to analyze and synthesize information, students perform better in examinations and writing assignments. Additionally, problem-solving abilities allow students to design innovative solutions to academic challenges, demonstrating their creativity and resourcefulness. Expediting Professional Success In the professional world, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for career advancement. They equip individuals with the ability to manage complex tasks, make sound decisions, and work effectively in a team. Furthermore, strong problem-solving skills allow professionals to tackle unforeseen obstacles and stay competitive in their fields. Strengthening Interpersonal Relationships Another significant aspect of critical thinking and problem-solving skills is their capacity to enhance interpersonal relationships both academically and professionally. These skills enable individuals to communicate effectively, understand different perspectives, and collaborate to achieve shared goals. Consequently, this leads to stronger relationships and improved team dynamics, contributing to overall success. Conclusion In sum, critical thinking and problem-solving skills contribute to academic and professional success by fostering intellectual growth, enabling effective decision-making, and enhancing interpersonal relationships. By cultivating these skills, individuals can excel academically and professionally, propelling them towards a more prosperous future.

In the current era of information and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are more invaluable than ever for nurturing academic prowess and propelling professionals towards successful careers. These cognitive tools permit individuals to dissect complexities, construct sound arguments, and forge progressive solutions, becoming cornerstones for both personal development and workplace advancement.Academic Excellence through Critical Analysis and IngenuityIn educational settings, critical thinking is indispensable. This form of rigorous and reflective thinking allows students to dive deeper into subjects, moving beyond rote memorization to an understanding of underlying principles. For instance, by evaluating evidence, challenging assumptions, and connecting disparate ideas, learners enhance their comprehension and retention of material, which invariably leads to improved academic outcomes.Moreover, problem-solving abilities enable students to navigate the myriad of academic hurdles they encounter. These skills are particularly essential for conducting research, where identifying problems, hypothesizing solutions, and testing these through systematic methodologies are fundamental activities. As a result, students equipped with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills often find themselves at the forefront of academic innovation, contributing novel insights and solutions.Professional Efficacy and AdaptabilityIn the professional realm, these skills are tantamount to career growth and effectiveness. Critical thinkers in the workplace are adept at evaluating situations, discerning potential issues before they burgeon, and employing strategic thinking to avert or address problems. This proactive stance is particularly valuable in dynamic industries where the ability to anticipate change and react promptly can distinguish a successful business strategy from an ineffectual one.Problem-solving skills complement this by providing the toolkit for overcoming obstacles in real-time. Professionals who demonstrate strong problem-solving abilities are often seen as assets to their organizations, capable of leading teams through crises and contributing to a culture of continuous improvement.Fostering Collaborative SynergyBeyond individual proficiency, critical thinking and problem-solving are instrumental in nurturing constructive interactions among peers. Academic collaborations benefit from individuals who can assess the validity of arguments and propose reasoned alternatives, thereby enriching scholarly debates and collaborations. In professional settings, these skills facilitate cross-functional team collaborations, where diverse viewpoints need to be integrated into cohesive action plans.These skills help to navigate the nuances of interpersonal dynamics, ensuring that communication is clear and objectives are aligned. This synergy not only leads to more effective collaborations but also fosters an inclusive environment where various perspectives are valued and leveraged for collective success.The Significance of Continuous Skill DevelopmentIn recognition of the importance of these skills, educational institutes and progressive businesses invest in training and development programs to cultivate them. Among these institutions, IIENSTITU is noteworthy for its dedication to empowering individuals with critical thinking and problem-solving proficiencies, ensuring that they are well-armed to confront the intellectual demands of academia and the challenges of the modern workplace.In closing, the impetus to hone one's critical thinking and problem-solving skills cannot be overstated. These abilities are the bedrock upon which academic mastery and professional distinction are built, fostering a culture of excellence and innovation. Those who invest in developing these skills position themselves to thrive in the ever-evolving landscapes of education and industry.

What are the essential elements of effective problem-solving incorporating critical thinking?

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Key Components **Identification and Analysis of the Problem** An essential element of effective problem-solving is the precise identification and thorough analysis of the problem at hand. This involves understanding the issue, its root cause, and the factors that influence its development. Critical thinkers are skilled at examining the complexity of problems, investigating their backgrounds, and distinguishing between relevant data and information. **Generation of Potential Solutions** Once the problem has been identified and analyzed, the next step involves brainstorming multiple potential solutions. This requires the use of creative thinking faculties, challenging assumptions, and exploring new perspectives. Critical thinkers are adept at recognizing underlying patterns and generating innovative ideas, which contribute to effective problem-solving approaches. **Evaluation and Comparison of Alternatives** Evaluating and comparing alternative solutions is crucial for effective problem-solving. Critical thinking skills enable individuals to assess the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential consequences of each proposed solution. Through systematic evaluation and comparison, the best possible solution can be selected to address the problem at hand. **Implementation and Monitoring of Solutions** The final important element of effective problem-solving is the implementation and monitoring of the selected solution. This entails putting the chosen solution into action and closely observing its results. The use of critical thinking helps evaluate the effectiveness of the solution in addressing the problem and identifying any potential drawbacks or unintended consequences that may arise. If necessary, adjustments can be made to further improve the solution. **Continuous Learning and Adaptation** A key aspect of incorporating critical thinking into problem-solving is the commitment to continuous learning and adaptation. This involves embracing change, seeking out feedback, and identifying opportunities for growth and improvement. As critical thinkers, individuals are better equipped to adapt their problem-solving strategy based on new information or changing circumstances, resulting in more effective solutions. In conclusion, the essential elements of effective problem-solving incorporating critical thinking include the identification and analysis of the problem, the generation of potential solutions, the evaluation and comparison of alternatives, and the implementation and monitoring of the chosen solution. By continuously learning and adapting, critical thinkers can develop more effective problem-solving strategies, leading to better outcomes and greater success.

Effective problem-solving is at the core of navigating complex challenges, and critical thinking plays a vital role in ensuring that solutions are well-crafted and lead to successful outcomes. When incorporating critical thinking into problem-solving, several key components must be diligently applied for the process to be effective:**Identification and Analysis of the Problem**At the heart of effective problem-solving is a clear and precise identification of the problem. This means not only recognizing that a problem exists but also understanding its nuances and the context in which it occurs. Critical thinking requires a deep dive into the problem's root causes and the interplay between various elements that contribute to the issue. It involves separating symptoms from the actual cause, evaluating evidence, and considering the problem's history. This analytical process ensures a full grasp of the issue, without which any further steps could be misguided.**Generation of Potential Solutions**Once the problem is fully delineated, generating a range of potential solutions begins. This stage relies on creative and innovative thinking, a hallmark of the critical thinking process. It is about thinking outside the box, challenging existing paradigms, and considering the unconventional. By tapping into this realm of critical thinking, individuals can develop a set of diverse and potentially effective responses, foregoing the one-size-fits-all solution.**Evaluation and Comparison of Alternatives**The solutions thus proposed are subject to rigorous scrutiny; they must be weighed against each other with a critical eye. Critical thinking plays a role in dissecting the implications, advantages, and disadvantages of each potential solution. It involves a systematic process of evaluation that looks at the short-term and long-term effects, considers ethical implications, and anticipates possible setbacks. Through this meticulous evaluation process, the most suitable solution can be identified and refined, tailored to effectively confront the problem at hand.**Implementation and Monitoring of Solutions**Selecting the right solution is not the end; rather, it's the beginning of actualizing the response to the problem. With critical thinking, the implementation phase is approached strategically. It involves anticipating potential resistance, planning for various scenarios, and meticulous execution. Furthermore, critical thinking recognizes the need for continuous monitoring of a solution's impact. It ensures that the response is working as intended and allows for real-time problem-solving, should new issues or unexpected outcomes arise.**Continuous Learning and Adaptation**One of the most significant elements that critical thinking introduces to problem-solving is an openness to learning and adaptation. It accepts that solutions may need revising and that the context can change, requiring a dynamic and flexible approach. By reflecting on the outcomes and extracting lessons from both successes and failures, individuals evolve their problem-solving acumen.By weaving these components into the fabric of problem-solving approaches, critical thinkers can navigate complex problems with greater assuredness and creativity. This methodology is not a linear process but a dynamic and iterative engagement that moves forward through informed decision-making, underpinned by a critical evaluation at each step. Thus, the integration of critical thinking enriches the problem-solving process, fostering solutions that are robust, adaptable, and forward-thinking.

How can the Socratic method be applied to enhance critical thinking and problem-solving skills?

Socratic Method: A Tool for Critical Thinking One of the most effective ways to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills is through the application of the Socratic method. Developed by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, this approach involves engaging in a cooperative dialogue to explore complex ideas and assess the validity of arguments. Interactive Dialogue for Analyzing Problems In applying the Socratic method, students are encouraged to engage in dialogue with their instructors or peers to dissect and examine the elements of a problem. This shared inquiry enables participants to collaboratively identify and articulate their assumptions, values, and principles. Questioning Techniques to Stimulate Critical Thinking A fundamental aspect of the Socratic method is the strategic use of probing questions to stimulate critical thinking among participants. By asking open-ended and thought-provoking questions, educators lead students to explore different perspectives, challenge their assumptions, and construct more well-reasoned positions. Refining Arguments through Elenchus Elenchus, a term derived from Socratic inquiry, refers to the rigorous cross-examination of a participant's beliefs, which ultimately serves to refine their arguments. This method fosters clear logical reasoning, helping students to better identify fallacies, contradictions, or inconsistencies within their own thought processes. Practical Application of the Socratic Method In a classroom setting, implementing the Socratic method can involve dividing students into small groups to discuss, analyze, and solve specific problems. Educators can support this process by guiding conversations to ensure balanced dialogue, encouraging critical questioning, and promoting active listening among students. Beyond the Classroom: Lifelong Learning The Socratic method can also be employed as a personal learning tool to help individuals practice critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their daily lives. By approaching new information with a curious and investigative mindset, individuals can develop the habit of challenging their assumptions, actively seeking evidence, and continuously refining their understanding on various topics or issues. In conclusion, the Socratic method has the potential to significantly enhance critical thinking and problem-solving abilities among learners. By engaging in interactive dialogue, making use of questioning techniques, and consistently refining arguments, students and individuals can develop the necessary cognitive skills to tackle complex issues with greater clarity and precision.

The Socratic method is renowned for its ability to nurture critical thinking and problem-solving skills through the art of dialogue and inquiry. At its core, this pedagogical approach fosters a deep, reflective analysis of ideas, encouraging participants to scrutinize underlying assumptions and intellectual foundations.Enhancing Critical Thinking with Guided InquiryThe essence of the Socratic method lies in its question-and-answer format, aimed at prompting learners to think critically and articulate their understanding of a given subject. Educators and mentors guide this process by carefully constructing questions that challenge students to clarify their thoughts, examine contradictions, and consider alternative viewpoints. This form of guided inquiry not only enhances critical thinking but also cultivates the skills necessary for independent problem-solving.Developing Problem-Solving Skills Through Collaborative EngagementProblem-solving is often most effective when approached collaboratively. Within the framework of the Socratic method, participants work together to unpack complex problems, leveraging the collective intelligence of the group. By drawing on diverse perspectives and experiences, the group is better equipped to generate innovative solutions. The interactive nature of the dialogue encourages individuals to list potential approaches, scrutinize their viability, and, through iterative questioning, arrive at a more nuanced resolution.Fostering a Culture of Continuous ImprovementCentral to the Socratic method is the notion of continuous improvement, with the dialogue never truly concluding, but rather leading to further questions and deeper understanding. Participants are trained to realize that learning is an ongoing journey, where answers often lead to new inquiries. This mindset is essential for critical thinking and problem-solving, as it keeps individuals in a constant state of cognitive growth, always seeking to refine their arguments and expand their knowledge base.Applying the Socratic Method to Real-World ScenariosReal-world problem-solving demands practical application of knowledge, and the Socratic method equips learners with the capacity to approach real-life challenges analytically. By simulating real-world scenarios through Socratic dialogue, individuals hone their ability to dissect problems, consider multiple factors at play, and evaluate the potential consequences of various solutions.The Socratic method's enduring relevance speaks to its effectiveness in facilitating intellectual development. It has been adopted by various educational institutions, one being IIENSTITU, which integrates Socratic principles into its teaching methodologies to empower learners to think critically and solve problems effectively.The unique strength of the Socratic method is in its capacity to tailor intellectual rigor to the individual's pace of learning, making it a powerful tool for both academic settings and personal growth endeavors. As we face an ever-changing world with increasingly complex challenges, the Socratic method stands as a testament to the timeless value of questioning, dialogue, and the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge.

What role does metacognition play in the process of critical thinking and problem-solving?

Metacognition and Critical Thinking Metacognition plays a vital role in critical thinking and problem-solving because it involves actively evaluating one's own thought process. This self-assessment allows individuals to make adjustments, identify flaws, and apply new strategies for processing complex information. Awareness of Thought Processes An essential component of metacognition is the awareness of personal intellectual capabilities and limitations. By understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, learners can strategically approach problems that align with their skills, making critical thinking more efficient and effective. Regulation of Cognitive Strategies Metacognition also encompasses the regulation of cognitive strategies to promote better problem-solving. Learners can adjust their thought processes, applying appropriate tactics or seeking alternative views to overcome challenges. This adaptability propels individuals to think more critically and solve problems efficiently. Reflection and Evaluation Reflective thinking, a crucial metacognitive skill, connects one's performance to achieved outcomes. By evaluating their progress periodically, learners can recognize success or detect potential pitfalls in their problem-solving approaches, enhancing the effectiveness of critical thinking. Feedback Integration Metacognition allows for effective feedback integration in the critical thinking process. Embracing constructive criticism and modifying cognitive strategies based on input from others facilitates greater success in problem-solving endeavors. Metacognitive Foresight Lastly, metacognitive foresight enables learners to anticipate future knowledge needs and devise plans for improvement. Rather than repeating the same mistakes, individuals can intentionally invest time and effort in acquiring new skills to strengthen their critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. In conclusion, metacognition is a powerful tool that enhances critical thinking and problem-solving by fostering self-awareness, regulation, reflection, feedback integration, and foresight. Incorporating metacognitive strategies into daily practice enables individuals to become more efficient and effective problem-solvers while continually improving their intellectual abilities.

Metacognition, often described as thinking about thinking, plays an indispensable role in both critical thinking and problem-solving, as it enables individuals to monitor, adapt, and assess their cognitive processes. This multifaceted component of human intelligence is critical for engaging in sophisticated reasoning tasks that our rapidly changing world often demands.Critical thinking involves analyzing arguments, evaluating evidence, developing coherent reasoning, and making sound judgments. Metacognition contributes to this by enabling individuals to become conscious of their thought patterns and decision-making criteria, thereby improving the quality of their conclusions and actions.One critical aspect of metacognition is the capability to gauge the difficulty of a task relative to one's current knowledge base and skillset. This self-appraisal is vital for determining the amount of mental effort required, selecting suitable strategies, and allocating appropriate resources to tackle challenges, which is the essence of effective problem-solving.Moreover, metacognitive strategies often include planning, monitoring, and evaluating one's approach to a task. During a problem-solving process, for instance, a person may plan by setting goals and identifying the necessary steps to achieve them. They would then monitor their progress, staying aware of their understanding or comprehension levels, and continuously evaluate their approach's effectiveness, adjusting strategies as needed.Another remarkable aspect of metacognition is error detection. As individuals engage in critical thinking, they may identify flaws in reasoning or gaps in knowledge that could lead to mistakes. Metacognitive skills help to catch these errors by prompting people to question their assumptions and ask for evidence, leading to improved accuracy in their problem-solving endeavours.Additionally, metacognition supports the integration and utilization of feedback. On receiving feedback, critical thinkers can use metacognitive processes to critically examine this new information, assimilate it into their existing knowledge structure, and adjust their strategies accordingly.Finally, metacognition enables learners to develop a growth mindset, encouraging the belief that intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. Such a mindset further strengthens the link between metacognition and problem-solving, as it propels the individual to actively seek out opportunities for growth and development, ensuring that each new problem becomes an avenue for learning and cognitive advancement.It's worth noting that educational institutions, such as IIENSTITU, place a strong emphasis on nurturing metacognitive skills to empower learners, highlighting their relevance in the acquisition of a robust critical thinking and problem-solving toolkit.Metacognition is much more than a cognitive 'luxury' – it is a fundamental aspect of thinking that enables individuals to approach problems with depth and insight. In fostering metacognitive skills, one does not just solve problems more effectively but also evolves as an analytical thinker capable of navigating the complexities and uncertainties of the modern world.

He is a content producer who specializes in blog content. He has a master's degree in business administration and he lives in the Netherlands.

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A Problem Solving Method: Brainstorming

A rectangular puzzle piece with a light green background and a blue geometric pattern sits in the center of the image. The puzzle piece has a curved edge along the top, and straight edges along the bottom and sides. The pattern on the piece consists of a thin green line that wraps around the outside edge and a thick blue line that follows the contours of the shape. The inside of the piece is filled with various shapes of the same color, including circles, triangles, and squares. The overall effect of the piece is calming and serene. It could be part of a larger puzzle that has yet to be solved.

What are Problem Solving Skills?

A close-up of a group of people holding puzzle pieces in their hands. A man is looking at the piece he is holding, while two other people are carefully looking at the pieces they are holding in their hands. The pieces have a wooden texture, and each one is a different color. One person is holding a light blue piece, while another person is holding a red piece. All the pieces are shaped differently, and some are curved while others are straight. The pieces all fit together to form a larger puzzle.

How To Develop Problem Solving Skills?

A woman in a white shirt is looking down and holding her head in her hands. She has long blonde hair and blue eyes. Her lips are slightly pursed, and her eyebrows are slightly furrowed. She looks sad and contemplative, as if she is lost in thought. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, and her head is slightly tilted to the side. Her expression is thoughtful and her posture is relaxed. She is standing in front of a plain white wall, and the light casts shadows on her face. She appears to be alone in the room, and her posture conveys a sense of loneliness and introspection.

How To Solve The Problems? Practical Problem Solving Skills

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

50 Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Examples

Critical thinking and problem solving are essential skills for success in the 21st century. Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information, evaluate evidence, and draw logical conclusions. Problem solving is the ability to apply critical thinking to find effective solutions to various challenges. Both skills require creativity, curiosity, and persistence. Developing critical thinking and problem solving skills can help students improve their academic performance, enhance their career prospects, and become more informed and engaged citizens.

what is the first step in solving problems using critical thinking

Sanju Pradeepa

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Examples

In today’s complex and fast-paced world, the ability to think critically and solve problems effectively has become a vital skill for success in all areas of life. Whether it’s navigating professional challenges, making sound decisions, or finding innovative solutions, critical thinking and problem-solving are key to overcoming obstacles and achieving desired outcomes. In this blog post, we will explore problem-solving and critical thinking examples.

Table of Contents

Developing the skills needed for critical thinking and problem solving.

Developing the skills needed for critical thinking and problem solving

It is not enough to simply recognize an issue; we must use the right tools and techniques to address it. To do this, we must learn how to define and identify the problem or task at hand, gather relevant information from reliable sources, analyze and compare data to draw conclusions, make logical connections between different ideas, generate a solution or action plan, and make a recommendation.

The first step in developing these skills is understanding what the problem or task is that needs to be addressed. This requires careful consideration of all available information in order to form an accurate picture of what needs to be done. Once the issue has been identified, gathering reliable sources of data can help further your understanding of it. Sources could include interviews with customers or stakeholders, surveys, industry reports, and analysis of customer feedback.

After collecting relevant information from reliable sources, it’s important to analyze and compare the data in order to draw meaningful conclusions about the situation at hand. This helps us better understand our options for addressing an issue by providing context for decision-making. Once you have analyzed the data you collected, making logical connections between different ideas can help you form a more complete picture of the situation and inform your potential solutions.

Once you have analyzed your options for addressing an issue based on all available data points, it’s time to generate a solution or action plan that takes into account considerations such as cost-effectiveness and feasibility. It’s also important to consider the risk factors associated with any proposed solutions in order to ensure that they are responsible before moving forward with implementation. Finally, once all the analysis has been completed, it is time to make a recommendation based on your findings, which should take into account any objectives set out by stakeholders at the beginning of this process as well as any other pertinent factors discovered throughout the analysis stage.

By following these steps carefully when faced with complex issues, one can effectively use critical thinking and problem-solving skills in order to achieve desired outcomes more efficiently than would otherwise be possible without them, while also taking responsibility for decisions made along the way.

what does critical thinking involve

What Does Critical Thinking Involve: 5 Essential Skill

Problem-solving and critical thinking examples.

Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Examples

Problem-solving and critical thinking are key skills that are highly valued in any professional setting. These skills enable individuals to analyze complex situations, make informed decisions, and find innovative solutions. Here, we present 25 examples of problem-solving and critical thinking. problem-solving scenarios to help you cultivate and enhance these skills.

Ethical dilemma: A company faces a situation where a client asks for a product that does not meet quality standards. The team must decide how to address the client’s request without compromising the company’s credibility or values.

Brainstorming session: A team needs to come up with new ideas for a marketing campaign targeting a specific demographic. Through an organized brainstorming session, they explore various approaches and analyze their potential impact.

Troubleshooting technical issues : An IT professional receives a ticket indicating a network outage. They analyze the issue, assess potential causes (hardware, software, or connectivity), and solve the problem efficiently.

Negotiation : During contract negotiations, representatives from two companies must find common ground to strike a mutually beneficial agreement, considering the needs and limitations of both parties.

Project management: A project manager identifies potential risks and develops contingency plans to address unforeseen obstacles, ensuring the project stays on track.

Decision-making under pressure: In a high-stakes situation, a medical professional must make a critical decision regarding a patient’s treatment, weighing all available information and considering potential risks.

Conflict resolution: A team encounters conflicts due to differing opinions or approaches. The team leader facilitates a discussion to reach a consensus while considering everyone’s perspectives.

Data analysis: A data scientist is presented with a large dataset and is tasked with extracting valuable insights. They apply analytical techniques to identify trends, correlations, and patterns that can inform decision-making.

Customer service: A customer service representative encounters a challenging customer complaint and must employ active listening and problem-solving skills to address the issue and provide a satisfactory resolution.

Market research : A business seeks to expand into a new market. They conduct thorough market research, analyzing consumer behavior, competitor strategies, and economic factors to make informed market-entry decisions.

Creative problem-solvin g: An engineer faces a design challenge and must think outside the box to come up with a unique and innovative solution that meets project requirements.

Change management: During a company-wide transition, managers must effectively communicate the change, address employees’ concerns, and facilitate a smooth transition process.

Crisis management: When a company faces a public relations crisis, effective critical thinking is necessary to analyze the situation, develop a response strategy, and minimize potential damage to the company’s reputation.

Cost optimization : A financial analyst identifies areas where expenses can be reduced while maintaining operational efficiency, presenting recommendations for cost savings.

Time management : An employee has multiple deadlines to meet. They assess the priority of each task, develop a plan, and allocate time accordingly to achieve optimal productivity.

Quality control: A production manager detects an increase in product defects and investigates the root causes, implementing corrective actions to enhance product quality.

Strategic planning: An executive team engages in strategic planning to define long-term goals, assess market trends, and identify growth opportunities.

Cross-functional collaboration: Multiple teams with different areas of expertise must collaborate to develop a comprehensive solution, combining their knowledge and skills.

Training and development : A manager identifies skill gaps in their team and designs training programs to enhance critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities.

Risk assessment : A risk management professional evaluates potential risks associated with a new business venture, weighing their potential impact and developing strategies to mitigate them.

Continuous improvement: An operations manager analyzes existing processes, identifies inefficiencies, and introduces improvements to enhance productivity and customer satisfaction.

Customer needs analysis: A product development team conducts extensive research to understand customer needs and preferences, ensuring that the resulting product meets those requirements.

Crisis decision-making: A team dealing with a crisis must think quickly, assess the situation, and make timely decisions with limited information.

Marketing campaign analysis : A marketing team evaluates the success of a recent campaign, analyzing key performance indicators to understand its impact on sales and customer engagement.

Constructive feedback: A supervisor provides feedback to an employee, highlighting areas for improvement and offering constructive suggestions for growth.

Conflict resolution in a team project: Team members engaged in a project have conflicting ideas on the approach. They must engage in open dialogue, actively listen to each other’s perspectives, and reach a compromise that aligns with the project’s goals.

Crisis response in a natural disaster: Emergency responders must think critically and swiftly in responding to a natural disaster, coordinating rescue efforts, allocating resources effectively, and prioritizing the needs of affected individuals.

Product innovation : A product development team conducts market research, studies consumer trends, and uses critical thinking to create innovative products that address unmet customer needs.

Supply chain optimization: A logistics manager analyzes the supply chain to identify areas for efficiency improvement, such as reducing transportation costs, improving inventory management, or streamlining order fulfillment processes.

Business strategy formulation: A business executive assesses market dynamics, the competitive landscape, and internal capabilities to develop a robust business strategy that ensures sustainable growth and competitiveness.

Crisis communication: In the face of a public relations crisis, an organization’s spokesperson must think critically to develop and deliver a transparent, authentic, and effective communication strategy to rebuild trust and manage reputation.

Social problem-solving: A group of volunteers addresses a specific social issue, such as poverty or homelessness, by critically examining its root causes, collaborating with stakeholders, and implementing sustainable solutions for the affected population.

Problem-Solving Mindset

Problem-Solving Mindset: How to Achieve It (15 Ways)

Risk assessment in investment decision-making: An investment analyst evaluates various investment opportunities, conducting risk assessments based on market trends, financial indicators, and potential regulatory changes to make informed investment recommendations.

Environmental sustainability: An environmental scientist analyzes the impact of industrial processes on the environment, develops strategies to mitigate risks, and promotes sustainable practices within organizations and communities.

Adaptation to technological advancements : In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, professionals need critical thinking skills to adapt to new tools, software, and systems, ensuring they can effectively leverage these advancements to enhance productivity and efficiency.

Productivity improvement: An operations manager leverages critical thinking to identify productivity bottlenecks within a workflow and implement process improvements to optimize resource utilization, minimize waste, and increase overall efficiency.

Cost-benefit analysis: An organization considering a major investment or expansion opportunity conducts a thorough cost-benefit analysis, weighing potential costs against expected benefits to make an informed decision.

Human resources management : HR professionals utilize critical thinking to assess job applicants, identify skill gaps within the organization, and design training and development programs to enhance the workforce’s capabilities.

Root cause analysis: In response to a recurring problem or inefficiency, professionals apply critical thinking to identify the root cause of the issue, develop remedial actions, and prevent future occurrences.

Leadership development: Aspiring leaders undergo critical thinking exercises to enhance their decision-making abilities, develop strategic thinking skills, and foster a culture of innovation within their teams.

Brand positioning : Marketers conduct comprehensive market research and consumer behavior analysis to strategically position a brand, differentiating it from competitors and appealing to target audiences effectively.

Resource allocation: Non-profit organizations distribute limited resources efficiently, critically evaluating project proposals, considering social impact, and allocating resources to initiatives that align with their mission.

Innovating in a mature market: A company operating in a mature market seeks to innovate to maintain a competitive edge. They cultivate critical thinking skills to identify gaps, anticipate changing customer needs, and develop new strategies, products, or services accordingly.

Analyzing financial statements : Financial analysts critically assess financial statements, analyze key performance indicators, and derive insights to support financial decision-making, such as investment evaluations or budget planning.

Crisis intervention : Mental health professionals employ critical thinking and problem-solving to assess crises faced by individuals or communities, develop intervention plans, and provide support during challenging times.

Data privacy and cybersecurity : IT professionals critically evaluate existing cybersecurity measures, identify vulnerabilities, and develop strategies to protect sensitive data from threats, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations.

Process improvement : Professionals in manufacturing or service industries critically evaluate existing processes, identify inefficiencies, and implement improvements to optimize efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction.

Multi-channel marketing strategy : Marketers employ critical thinking to design and execute effective marketing campaigns across various channels such as social media, web, print, and television, ensuring a cohesive brand experience for customers.

Peer review: Researchers critically analyze and review the work of their peers, providing constructive feedback and ensuring the accuracy, validity, and reliability of scientific studies.

Project coordination : A project manager must coordinate multiple teams and resources to ensure seamless collaboration, identify potential bottlenecks, and find solutions to keep the project on schedule.  

These examples highlight the various contexts in which problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are necessary for success. By understanding and practicing these skills, individuals can enhance their ability to navigate challenges and make sound decisions in both personal and professional endeavors.


Critical thinking and problem-solving are indispensable skills that empower individuals to overcome challenges, make sound decisions, and find innovative solutions. By honing these skills, one can navigate through the complexities of modern life and achieve success in both personal and professional endeavors. Embrace the power of critical thinking and problem-solving, and unlock the door to endless possibilities and growth.

  • Problem solving From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • Critical thinking From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • The Importance of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills for Students (5 Minutes)

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Critical Thinking for Problem Solving

critcal thinking for problem solving

Critical thinking is the process to rationally analyze and attempt to solve a problem – accurately and efficiently. This method is made without the use of guesses and assumptions.

It is a cognitive skill or a mental process. Based on acquired knowledge, you’ll have to analyze, examine, and scrutinize options to create an opinion or set of actions.

Business leaders use critical thinking to solve day-to-day problems. On the other hand, students rely on critical thinking for their learning process and research.

It is the ability to think rationally and clearly, while understanding the connection between opinions and ideas.

A critical thinker has the following characteristics:

  • Considers a wide range of perspectives
  • Open-minded
  • Accepts new findings, pieces of evidence, and explanations
  • Willing to reassess information
  • Open to all reasonable possibilities
  • Not hasty to make judgments

Critical thinking is actually the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. You will need to use your ability to reason. This is all about being an active learner as opposed to being just a passive recipient of information.

You’ll need to actively question every idea and assumptions instead of simply accepting them at face value. You’ll always seek to determine if certain arguments, ideas, and findings actually represent the whole picture. However, you’ll have to be open to the idea that they might not represent the entire picture.

Intuition and instinct are thrown out of the window, instead, you will have to identify, analyze, and solve all your problems systematically.

Critical Thinking Methods

  • Identify the problem.

Thinking through the scenario helps separate real problems from simple misunderstandings or disagreements.

With the use of critical thinking, assessing a problem might reveal that there was never a problem at all. It might also show that a problem cannot be solved with the present circumstances or situations. This helps in reducing the harmful effects of a problem as opposed to just quickly looking for an outright solution.

  • Analyze the problem .

The analysis would require looking at the situation at hand in all the possible angles.

Identify the problem and then analyze it.

It will help frame your thoughts if you ask the following questions:

  • Is it solvable?
  • Is it real or perceived?
  • Is it solvable on your own or you’ll need help to solve it?
  • Brainstorm and come up with a list of solutions.

Problems can be solved in several ways. After identification and analysis, brainstorm for a list of possible solutions. Consider every option you can think about.

List them down then narrow your options to the most efficient and appropriate solution.

This process often encourages creativity. With creativity, one considers a set of diverse solutions before making and acting on decisions. A creative strategy might need working with others to get a different point of view and to prevent internal biases.

While brainstorming for possible solutions, you will come up with solutions that you might have turned to in the past. Several assumptions will surface, and you might realize that the solutions that worked before may not work this time.

You’ll have to focus more on acquiring enough data and research. You’ll need multiple data points and case studies to ensure completeness and accuracy. 

  • Decide what solution suits the problem best .

Once you have narrowed your list of options, you’ll need to decide which one is the most appropriate solution for the problem at hand.

It may not be the best solution you can think of, but it may be the most appropriate given the situation and circumstances.

  • Take action .

You have narrowed down your options and picked the most appropriate solution, it’s time to act.

  • Follow-up after implementation .

Once the solution is implemented and you managed to solve the problem, you should follow up on the outcome. Compare your outcomes to your predicted ones and use the information to identify any flaw in the decision-making process.

Prepare for contingencies. Consider a certain time period in the future. Also, think of how you would monitor compliance and follow-through.

Critical thinking is a way of thinking about certain things at a certain time. It is not about the accumulation of facts and knowledge. Critical thinking is not something that you learn once and then use it in that same form over and over. It is not like the multiplication table that you learn and use in school.

Process Of Critical Thinking

  • Inform and Describe . Clarify what you need to know, what you already know, and other relevant information about the issue.
  • Discover and Explore . Look at the problem closely. Be direct.
  • Negotiate and Cooperate . Consider different perspectives and engage in further discussions with another person or group.
  • Test and Revise . Weigh the different pieces of evidence given based on the gathered information. Test the different ideas to see what works.
  • Integrate and Apply . Bring together various ideas and consolidate and articulate new information.

Benefits Of Using Critical Thinking Methods In Solving Problems

  • Approach .  Being aware of the different approaches to problem is a good mindset.
  • Save Time . With a critical thinking mindset, you’ll be aware that not all information gathered is relevant in understanding the problem and thinking up a solution. Critical thinking makes you prioritize time and resources by analyzing and taking only what is essential.
  • Appreciation of Different World Views . When you are open-minded, you’ll be able to empathize with the many differing point of views. With critical thinking, you’ll see beyond cultural norms and understand the factors that can influence making decisions. Being empathetic and understanding helps for effective leadership and teamwork.
  • Enhanced Communication . Critical thinking helps you to be a good communicator once you know how to analyze and build evidence for any given premise. Having relevant and consistent points in supporting theory is important in communication.
  • Decision-making . These abilities are transformed once you are able to apply critical thinking in solving problems. Once you develop critical thinking, making decisions comes easy. You’ll be able to work on a more analytical or logical way of thinking, thus, leading to sound decisions .
  • Reason . One will learn two types of reasoning, deductive and inductive. One will also learn when to use one over the other. When decisions are grounded on logic and reason instead of emotion or instinct, one would have a more effective way to solve problems.

How to Achieve Critical Thinking Skills

There are different ways to achieve critical thinking skills. Two of these ways are (a) convergent thinking and (b) divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is where all facts and data are brought together from different areas with the aim to solve problems, achieve the desired outcome, and make informed and proper decisions. It is a process that focuses on developing the best answer to a problem.

Divergent thinking is about thinking outwards or generating ideas creatively. Through this type of thinking, solutions are made using thought experiments. There are imagined scenarios that will allow us to understand how things would work. Once we understand how things work, that is where we can think of solutions for the problem with ease.

These two can be used together. For example, you may use divergent thinking to detail the most obvious and random ideas first then use convergent thinking to filter the possible best ideas or solutions. In other options, you can mix divergent and convergent options in the process.

Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills

  • Never take anything as is . Don’t accept things at face value. Always learn to evaluate every single data you are getting. Evaluate the things you see, the things you hear, and the things you read. Then you decide on what you must do. Rather than following what is common, spend some time thinking about other possible ways.
  • Always consider motives . Everyone has a motive and bias; hence, you should always consider where the information is coming from and who is the one giving it.
  • Research . To be more believable and realistic, learn to do some research. Learning about a scenario or situation beforehand helps in making decisions with ease and confidence.
  • Make it a habit to always ask questions . It helps to be more informed. Do not be afraid to ask questions to those who know, especially when you badly need information or just need to know things.
  • Never assume that you are right . Assuming that you are right without consideration for other point of views is not grounds for thinking critically. You should be open to new ideas and opinions.
  • Break things down . Problems might look big and difficult to solve at first glance. However, if you can break it down to smaller chunks, they will be easier to manage.
  • Keep things simple . Always go for the simplest explanation that fits all facts.

Parting Words

The main point of critical thinking is to achieve the best possible outcomes in any given situation (scenario). To achieve this, you’ll have to gather and evaluate information from many different sources. Critical thinking needs a clear, but often uncomfortable, assessment of your own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, and the possible impact on the decisions you’ll make.

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    Open-mindedness It's important to kick off the critical thinking process with the idea that anything is possible. The more you're able to set aside your own suspicions, beliefs, and agenda, the better prepared you are to approach the situation with the level of inquisitiveness you need.

  4. Critical Thinking

    1. History 2. Examples and Non-Examples 2.1 Dewey's Three Main Examples 2.2 Dewey's Other Examples 2.3 Further Examples 2.4 Non-examples 3. The Definition of Critical Thinking 4. Its Value 5. The Process of Thinking Critically 6. Components of the Process

  5. The Seven Key Steps Of Critical Thinking

    When you're able to critically think, it opens the door for employee engagement, as you become the go-to person for assistance with issues, challenges and problems. In turn, you teach your...

  6. Problem-Solving with Critical Thinking

    Step 1: Define the problem Albert Einstein once said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions." Often, when we first hear of or learn about a problem, we do not have all the information.

  7. 5.3: Using Critical Thinking Skills- Decision Making and Problem Solving

    Using Critical Thinking Skills in Problem Solving. Think of problem solving as a process with four Ps: Define the problem, generate possibilities,. create a plan, and perform your plan.. Step 1: Define the problem. To define a problem effectively, understand what a problem is—a mismatch between what you want and what you have.

  8. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

  9. Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

    Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions. It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better.

  10. Solving Problems with Creative and Critical Thinking

    Solving Problems with Creative and Critical Thinking. Module 1 • 3 hours to complete. This module will help you to develop skills and behaviors required to solve problems and implement solutions more efficiently in an agile manner by using a systematic five-step process that involves both creative and critical thinking.

  11. A Guide to Critical Thinking Steps (With Benefits and Tips)

    Here are seven steps you can follow to ensure you're approaching a problem from a logical perspective that is free of bias: 1. Identify the problem. To implement a critical thinking process, it's crucial to identify the problem you're trying to solve. You can accomplish this by viewing the dilemma from an alternative perspective and asking ...

  12. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

    The first step is to gather the information needed to help you solve your problem. You start by analyzing and evaluating sources for authority to give you the best shot at finding something truthful and unbiased. Watch Out For information overload. Access to information is easier than ever these days, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all.

  13. Critical Thinking: Steps 1 & 2: Reflection and Analysis

    Step 1: Reflect Step 2: Analyze Step 1: Reflecting on the Issue, Problem, or Task Reflection is an important early step in critical thinking. There are various kinds of reflection that promote deeper levels of critical thinking (click on the table to view larger): Brockbank, A., & McGill, I. (2007).

  14. 5 Top Critical Thinking Skills (And How To Improve Them)

    Top 5 critical thinking skills. Here are five common and impactful critical thinking skills you might consider highlighting on your resume or in an interview: 1. Observation. Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. People who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem.

  15. 3 critical thinking strategies to enhance your problem-solving skills

    Strategy 2: Utilize Bloom's Taxonomy. Another strategy that can develop the critical thinking process is Bloom's Taxonomy. Educators worldwide have used the framework created by Benjamin Bloom to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition, like reasoning, learning, and comprehension.

  16. 6 Strategies for Increasing Critical Thinking with Problem Solving

    Increasing Critical Thinking in Problem Solving. When tackling a problem, students need to be able to determine WHAT to do and HOW to do it. Knowing the HOW is what you likely teach every day - your students know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. But knowing WHAT to do is arguably the most essential part of solving problems - once ...

  17. How to Apply Critical Thinking in Problem-Solving

    Critical Thinking What are the steps to effectively apply critical thinking in problem-solving? Powered by AI and the LinkedIn community 1 Identify the problem 2 Gather relevant...

  18. The First Step in Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

    The First Step in Critical Thinking Problem-Solving: Identification The first step in problem solving is identification. This may seem like an obvious step, but it's actually harder than it looks. To properly identify a problem, you need to be able to take an objective view of the situation and understand all the facts involved.

  19. The Problem-Solving Process

    1. Identifying the Problem While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

  20. How to Solve Any Problem with Critical Thinking

    How to Solve Any Problem with Critical Thinking Last updated on Dec 6, 2023 All Soft Skills Critical Thinking What are the most important steps to take when solving a problem?...

  21. 50 Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Examples

    The first step in developing these skills is understanding what the problem or task is that needs to be addressed. This requires careful consideration of all available information in order to form an accurate picture of what needs to be done.

  22. Critical Thinking for Problem Solving

    Critical thinking is the process to rationally analyze and attempt to solve a problem - accurately and efficiently. This method is made without the use of guesses and assumptions. It is a cognitive skill or a mental process. Based on acquired knowledge, you'll have to analyze, examine, and scrutinize options to create an opinion or set of actions.

  23. How to Frame and Solve Problems with Critical Thinking

    2 Define the problem. The next step in framing a problem is to define it clearly and concisely, using a problem statement that summarizes the main issue and its implications. You can use a formula ...

  24. Critical Thinking vs. Problem-Solving: What's the Difference?

    Critical thinking comprises five steps, which are : Identify: During this step, you can identify what parts of your thought process you want to improve, like how you structure arguments and how you evaluate sources during research.

  25. PDF Fostering Problem Solving and Critical Thinking in Mathematics Through

    During the problem solving process, critical thinking has several roles: it permits to correctly look for data, it helps the choice of good strategies, and it allows arguing about the findings. The use of problem solving for Mathematics with new technologies has been widely explored in the latest

  26. How to Use Critical Thinking to Solve Complex IT Problems

    7. Here's what else to consider. Be the first to add your personal experience. Critical thinking is a valuable skill for any IT professional, especially when you face complex problems at work ...

  27. Public Accounts Committee Sitting. || 20th February 2024

    Public Accounts Committee Sitting. || 20th February 2024

  28. How to Use Critical Thinking in Food Science

    Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information and arguments in a logical and objective way. It helps you solve problems, make decisions, and communicate clearly.