Critical thinking: who, where, when, how, why? It’s important to ask yourself these questions

When it comes to learning, thinking critically is about not taking things at face-value necessarily, but questioning the information given. Critical thinking is absolutely, well, critical, at university. But even at school, it is expected and necessary, if you aim to get the highest grades.

To think in this way is a complex process that requires a questioning outlook, analysis of the material and learning with an open mind.

Think: what are the facts; what are the sources and are they credible; how much opinion or bias is there; what key points are not given and what variables are there; does the author have a vested interest that I should take into consideration?

According to the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh, there are 6 features of critical thinking:

  • Identify a range of positions on the issue at hand. Compare and contrast opposing views.
  • Judge the reliability of the sources. Think about whether there is any bias, prejudice or self-interest in the way the information is presented.
  • Evaluate the opposing arguments.
  • Synthesise by bringing together a range of evidence to make your points.
  • Conclude – draw conclusions based on your own line of argument.
  • Present your ideas clearly, in a manner that will convince others.

Whilst critical thinking is an undisputed educational goal, it is also useful in the wider world; think how much ‘fake News' is out there on the web and on social media. And it’s not just ‘fake News' that we need to be wary of. Even real, mainstream news from very reliable sources, should be viewed with caution.

A headline that is going to grab your attention (and almost certainly make you want to read more news) will likely be negative or even frightening. But if you STOP and think about what is behind the headline and what is the wider context of it, you may well view the story differently.

In fact, many readers won’t think critically about such a headline, possibly through habit or maybe they lack the skills needed. But with practice, we could all become better critical thinkers.

A bit of a buzz term right now, critical thinking is about knowing how to think as opposed to what to think. Learning, discussing, questioning and understanding different views and ideas - with an open, enquiring mind - will not only lead to a more solid education, but it is also a transferable skill that could be put to good use at work and in the wider world.

Suggested links

Teaching students to think critically (opinion) (

Thinking critically and why it is important (

Institute for Academic Development | The University of Edinburgh

What is critical thinking? | Critical thinking | Library | University of Leeds

Critical thinking | The University of Edinburgh