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What is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking?

‘Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do’.

The philosopher Robert Ennis’ definition is widely used and captures the idea of critical thinking succinctly. Being “reasonable” means we have to give reasons for what we believe and what we decide to do; that is we have to make an argument for them. Being “reflective” means we think things through for ourselves, raise questions and find information, rather than acting passively. The outcome of a critical thinking process is to produce one’s own argument for one’s own conclusion.

There is wide academic agreement that critical thinking is a set of skills which can be learned, practiced and improved. Listed below, these skills are essential for pupils at school and beyond:

  • Interpretation
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Argument creation

Critical thinking is also a value-laden exercise; the values most important to critical thinking are: intellectual honesty, fair-mindedness, inquisitiveness, open-mindedness and intellectual boldness. Students will learn and reinforce these values when they practice critical thinking.

Why is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is clearly important in education. In secondary schools, students are grappling with open-ended problems in HASS (Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences) subjects. The requirements for critical thinking increase as the student advances through secondary school and on to higher education. At A level, the reforms introduced from 2015 increased the proportion of marks for analysis and evaluation. In higher education, the requirement to understand and create arguments is essential, so universities value critical thinking skills very highly.

This is also true in the workplace. Critical thinking is identified as one of the most important 21st-century work skills by the World Economic Forum (WEF). As knowledge becomes ever more easily available via the internet, recruiters will look increasingly for thinking skills. This trend is expected to accelerate as technological advances reduce the need for many traditional jobs. Since 50% of students will never enter higher education, it is essential that critical thinking skills are built up during secondary education.

So which school subjects are best for developing critical thinking skills? Click the button to read our longer article and find out!