What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a kind of thinking in which you question, analyse, interpretevaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say, or write. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikos meaning “able to judge or discern”. Good critical thinking is about making reliable judgements based on reliable information.

Applying critical thinking does not mean being negative or focusing on faults. It means being able to clarify your thinking so that you can break down a problem or a piece of information, interpret it and use that interpretation to arrive at an informed decision or judgement (for example designing a bridge, responding to an opinion piece or understanding a political motivation).

People who apply critical thinking consistently are said to have a critical thinking mindset, but no one is born this way. These are attributes which are learnt and improved through practice and application.

In the academic context, critical thinking is most commonly associated with arguments. You might be asked to think critically about other people's arguments or create your own. To become a better critical thinker, you therefore need to learn how to:

Critical Thinking diagram which lists the skills: Clarify, Question, Identify, Analyse, Evaluate, and Create
  1. clarify your thinking purpose and context
  2. question your sources of information
  3. identify arguments
  4. analyse sources and arguments
  5. evaluate the arguments of others and
  6. create or synthesise your own arguments.

As the image illustrates, critical thinking skills and attributes are interconnected and need to work together for your critical thinking to be effective.

Examples of critical thinking skills, mindsets and practices

Below are four examples of critical thinking skills, mindsets and practices. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all critical thinking skills because the skills you use will depend on your specific context.

Taking it further