Critical Thinking Definition Examples

Why Critical Thinking?

The Problem

Everyone thinks. It is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.


A Definition

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

To Analyze Thinking

Identify its purpose, and question at issue, as well as its information, inferences(s), assumptions, implications, main concept(s), and point of view.

To Assess Thinking

Check it for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, logic, and fairness.

The Result

A well-cultivated critical thinker:

  • Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  • Thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems


The Etymology & Dictionary Definition of "Critical Thinking"

The concept of critical thinking we adhere to reflects a concept embedded not only in a core body of research over the last 30 to 50 years but also derived from roots in ancient Greek. The word ’’critical’’ derives etymologically from two Greek roots: "kriticos" (meaning discerning judgment) and "kriterion" (meaning standards). Etymologically, then, the word implies the development of "discerning judgment based on standards."

In Webster’s New World Dictionary, the relevant entry reads "characterized by careful analysis and judgment" and is followed by the gloss, "critical — in its strictest sense — implies an attempt at objective judgment so as to determine both merits and faults." Applied to thinking, then, we might provisionally define critical thinking as thinking that explicitly aims at well-founded judgment and hence utilizes appropriate evaluative standards in the attempt to determine the true worth, merit, or value of something.

The tradition of research into critical thinking reflects the common perception that human thinking left to itself often gravitates toward prejudice, over-generalization, common fallacies, self-deception, rigidity, and narrowness.

The critical thinking tradition seeks ways of understanding the mind and then training the intellect so that such "errors", "blunders", and "distortions" of thought are minimized. It assumes that the capacity of humans for good reasoning can be nurtured and developed by an educational process aimed directly at that end.

The history of critical thinking documents the development of this insight in a variety of subject matter domains and in a variety of social situations. Each major dimension of critical thinking has been carved out in intellectual debate and dispute through 2400 years of intellectual history.

That history allows us to distinguish two contradictory intellectual tendencies: a tendency on the part of the large majority to uncritically accept whatever was presently believed as more or less eternal truth and a conflicting tendency on the part of a small minority — those who thought critically — to systematically question what was commonly accepted and seek, as a result, to establish sounder, more reflective criteria and standards for judging what it does and does not make sense to accept as true.

Our basic concept of critical thinking is, at root, simple. We could define it as the art of taking charge of your own mind. Its value is also at root simple: if we can take charge of our own minds, we can take charge of our lives; we can improve them, bringing them under our self command and direction. Of course, this requires that we learn self-discipline and the art of self-examination. This involves becoming interested in how our minds work, how we can monitor, fine tune, and modify their operations for the better. It involves getting into the habit of reflectively examining our impulsive and accustomed ways of thinking and acting in every dimension of our lives.

All that we do, we do on the basis of some motivations or reasons. But we rarely examine our motivations to see if they make sense. We rarely scrutinize our reasons critically to see if they are rationally justified. As consumers we sometimes buy things impulsively and uncritically, without stopping to determine whether we really need what we are inclined to buy or whether we can afford it or whether it’s good for our health or whether the price is competitive. As parents we often respond to our children impulsively and uncritically, without stopping to determine whether our actions are consistent with how we want to act as parents or whether we are contributing to their self esteem or whether we are discouraging them from thinking or from taking responsibility for their own behavior.

As citizens, too often we vote impulsively and uncritically, without taking the time to familiarize ourselves with the relevant issues and positions, without thinking about the long-run implications of what is being proposed, without paying attention to how politicians manipulate us by flattery or vague and empty promises. As friends, too often we become the victims of our own infantile needs, "getting involved" with people who bring out the worst in us or who stimulate us to act in ways that we have been trying to change. As husbands or wives, too often we think only of our own desires and points of view, uncritically ignoring the needs and perspectives of our mates, assuming that what we want and what we think is clearly justified and true, and that when they disagree with us they are being unreasonable and unfair.

As patients, too often we allow ourselves to become passive and uncritical in our health care, not establishing good habits of eating and exercise, not questioning what our doctor says, not designing or following good plans for our own wellness. As teachers, too often we allow ourselves to uncritically teach as we have been taught, giving assignments that students can mindlessly do, inadvertently discouraging their initiative and independence, missing opportunities to cultivate their self-discipline and thoughtfulness.

It is quite possible and, unfortunately, quite "natural" to live an unexamined life; to live in a more or less automated, uncritical way. It is possible to live, in other words, without really taking charge of the persons we are becoming; without developing or acting upon the skills and insights we are capable of. However, if we allow ourselves to become unreflective persons — or rather, to the extent that we do — we are likely to do injury to ourselves and others, and to miss many opportunities to make our own lives, and the lives of others, fuller, happier, and more productive.

On this view, as you can see, critical thinking is an eminently practical goal and value. It is focused on an ancient Greek ideal of "living an examined life". It is based on the skills, the insights, and the values essential to that end. It is a way of going about living and learning that empowers us and our students in quite practical ways. When taken seriously, it can transform every dimension of school life: how we formulate and promulgate rules; how we relate to our students; how we encourage them to relate to each other; how we cultivate their reading, writing, speaking, and listening; what we model for them in and outside the classroom, and how we do each of these things.

Of course, we are likely to make critical thinking a basic value in school only insofar as we make it a basic value in our own lives. Therefore, to become adept at teaching so as to foster critical thinking, we must become committed to thinking critically and reflectively about our own lives and the lives of those around us. We must become active, daily, practitioners of critical thought. We must regularly model for our students what it is to reflectively examine, critically assess, and effectively improve the way we live.

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

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Critical Thinking Skills List and Examples

Critical Thinking Skills and Keywords for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews

Critical thinking is one of the most sought after qualities that employers look for in job candidates in almost any industry. Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.

Read below for a list of critical thinking skills that employers are looking for in resumes, cover letters, job applications, and interviews. Included is a detailed list of five of the most important critical thinking skills, as well as an even longer list of critical thinking skills.

Also see below for information on how to demonstrate your critical thinking skills during your job search.

Why Employers Value Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking involves the evaluation of sources such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings. Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details for solving a problem or making a decision.  

This is important for almost any job in any industry. Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and come up with the best solution. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own, and will not need constant handholding.

Examples of critical thinking vary depending on the industry. For example, a triage nurse would use critical thinking skills to analyze the cases at hand and decide the order in which the patients should be treated.

A plumber would use critical thinking skills to evaluate which materials would best suit a particular job. An attorney would review the evidence and use critical thinking to help devise a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.  

How to Use Skills Lists

If critical thinking is a key phrase in the job listings you are applying for, you want to emphasize your critical thinking skills throughout your job search.

Include this phrase and related terms in your resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Firstly, you can use these critical thinking skill words in your resume. In the description of your work history, you can use some of these key words. You can also include them in your resume summary, if you have one.

Secondly, you can use these in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, you can mention one or two of these skills, and give a specific example of a time when you demonstrated those skills at work. Think about times when you had to analyze or evaluate materials to solve a problem.

Finally, you can use these skill words in an interview. Be ready to mention a particular problem or challenge at work, and explain how you applied critical thinking to solve the issue. Try to use some of the keywords listed below in your answers to questions.

Some interviewers will even give you a hypothetical scenario or problem, and ask you to use critical thinking skills to solve it. In this case, explain your thought process thoroughly to the interviewer. He or she is typically more focused on how you arrive at your answer rather than the answer itself. The interviewer wants to see you use analysis and evaluation (key parts of critical thinking).

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully, and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Also review our other lists of skills listed by job and type of skill.

Top Five Critical Thinking Skills

Analytical
Part of thinking critical is the ability to carefully examine something, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. People with analytical skills can examine information, and then understand what it means, and what it represents.

Communication
Often, you will need to share your conclusions with your employers or with a group of colleagues. You need to be able to clearly communicate with others to share your ideas. You might also need to engage in critical thinking with a group. In this case, you will need to work with others and communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems.

Creativity
Critical thinking often involves some level of creativity. You might need to spot patterns in the information you are looking at, or come up with a solution that no one else has thought of before. All of this involves a creative eye.

Open-Minded
To think critically, you need to be able to put aside any assumptions or judgments, and simply analyze the information you are given. You need to be objective, evaluating ideas without bias.

Problem Solving
Problem solving is another important critical-thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, generating a solution, and implementing and then assessing that plan. After all, employers don’t simply want employee who can think about information critically. They also need to be able to come up with effective solutions.

Critical Thinking Skills

A-G

  • Analytical
  • Applying Standards
  • Asking Thoughtful Questions
  • Assessment
  • Clarification
  • Cognitive Flexibility
  • Communication
  • Conceptualization
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decision Making
  • Embracing Different Cultural Perspectives
  • Evaluation
  • Explanation
  • Foresight

H-M

  • Identifying Patterns
  • Imaginative
  • Information Seeking
  • Interpretation
  • Judgment
  • Logical Reasoning
  • Making Abstract Connections
  • Making Inferences

N-Z

  • Objectivity
  • Observation
  • Open-Minded Thinking 
  • Predicting
  • Presentation
  • Problem Solving
  • Questioning Evidence
  • Reasoning 
  • Recognizing Differences and Similarities
  • Reflection
  • Skepticism
  • Synthesizing

Read More: Employment Skills Listed by Job | Lists of Skills for Resumes | Soft vs. Hard Skills | List of Keywords for Resumes and Cover Letters

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