Our modern education system doesn’t aim to develop one’s critical thinking skills, but quite the opposite. These science-backed strategies will help you enhance yours.

Critical thinking (CT) involves an objective analysis of a situation by way of collecting information from sources that are available to you and then making an evaluation of both the intangible and tangible aspects with a keen eye on the effects of each of the actions taken.

The Foundation of Critical Thinking defines it as a process of conceptualization, analysis, synthesis and assessing ideas gathered by way of experience, reasoning, observation and communication as a pathway to belief and action.

In times of information overload that we live in, it is particularly important to have well-developed critical thinking skills.

Enhancing Your Critical Thinking Skills

There are active ways through which critical thinking skills can be enhanced and a lot of studies have proved it. In an effort to establish this, Walker (2003) in her study about “active learning strategies to promote Critical thinking[1] found out school debates and discussions enhanced CT amongst students.

As the discussions went on, there was insight coming from the other side of the debates and discussions that became useful in further enlightening students’ thought processes. This became a good foundation to build upon in their line of thoughts!

In a different study conducted by Bernstein[2], students were confronted with reliable yet antagonistic arguments in what was believed to be a negotiation model for teaching critical thinking. This required students to deal with the tension existing between arguments that were taken to be a component that drives CT.

Such controversy existing in psychology as animal rights was a part of the discussions made. At the end of the day, students could comfortably tackle either side of the divide between the issues raised hence a huge development towards critical thinking skills.

So, how can you enhance your critical thinking skills? There probably are quite a number of ways but here are eight that you could use in your day-to-day engagements:

1. Ask fundamental questions

The world is sophisticated at times. However, its complex nature does not always need sophisticated answers. When you complicate the explanation, the original basic questions get lost. Therefore, it is important to go back to the fundamental questions that were asked in the first place.

Start with what you know and how you know it. What are you trying to establish, critique or demonstrate? Take a simple approach of asking basic questions to guide you in demystifying the complex situation on your way!

2. Interrogate Basic Assumptions

If there are any assumptions made, question them lest you make a fool of yourself. There could be wrong assumptions and if you build your thinking on such, you will not get far with it.

The greatest innovators of all time such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Yitang Zhang among others took time to see whether the general assumptions made could have been wrong.

For every question that needs an answer or a problem that needs a solution, question your assumptions and carefully assess your beliefs concerning what is possible, prudent or suitable.

3. Watch Your Mental Processes

Your chain of thoughts is really amazing and if you are not careful, the speed at which they occur can be a disadvantage when you are endeavoring to think critically.

The human brain usually uses mental shortcuts, commonly known as heuristics in explaining what is happening in our surrounding. This is beneficial when in a fright mode but not good when choosing the candidate to vote for.

Therefore, it is important to be alert concerning your cognitive biases and individual prejudices. Most importantly, check at how they influence your apparently “objective” solutions and decisions.

Everyone has these biases in their thinking. Your though becomes critical if you are aware of them.

4. Reverse Things

A useful way of unblocking your mind and to help you think straight is by reversing things. While it could be obvious that X is the main cause of Y, try asking yourself what if Y was the cause of X?

You may have heard about the problem of the chicken and the egg. It appears obvious that the chicken came first. But still, you may want to ask where the chicken came from. This will reverse your thinking to believe that the egg came first. This will jog your mind a bit and cause it to think critically.

5. Assess Evidence

In your endeavors to solve an issue, consider other efforts that have been put in place in a similar scenario. All the same, evaluate the source well before reaching any conclusion. Should you find some evidence to the issue, look at how it was gathered, the reason and by whom?

For instance, don’t just take a study showing the health benefits of a sugary cereal as the truth. Don’t fall for its appealing nature.

You may be surprised to find out that the research was financed by the company that produces the product in question! If you assess evidence, you will at times find a conflict of interest to question.

6. What do you think yourself?

It is not wise to entirely rely on research done by others. You need to also think on your own. This turns out to be a powerful tool at times.

The famous equation E=mc2 was practically a conclusion made from Einstein’s pure thought. C.P. Snow realized that Einstein’s argument did not overly rely on other people’s opinions.

Well, don’t be overconfident, but it is sometimes good to take time to think through by yourself.

7. Understand Thinking Critically is a Process

No one is a critical thinker in every situation. In their 1987 presentation at the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, Michael Scriven and Richard Paul [3] stated that CT is never universal in any person and that all people are subject to episodes of irrational thought.

It is unlikely that you will be able to think critically all the time. Therefore, you must understand that it will only be needed when making vital decisions or solving complex situations.

8. Don’t settle for Quick Solutions

When problems show up, don’t settle for a quick solution. Carefully analyze the issue and take time to look at all possible solutions. Come up with a checklist to trigger your thoughts on lasting possibilities and consequences of your action.

Making use of these ways can greatly enhance your critical thinking skills. Most important to note is that CT is a process and you may not apply it all the time. It is okay to not think critically in some scenarios as would require so.

References:

  1. [1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7219979
  2. [2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232583209
  3. [3] http://www.criticalthinking.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Betsy Randall is a freelance tutor and part-time researcher who holds an MD in Eastern Philosophy. Betsy likes writing about social issues, philosophy, and education.


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