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Strategies for Developing Critical Thinking Skills

by Christopher Cascio

Critical thinking is the ability to assess and analyze information so you can reach a conclusion that is logical, well-rounded and informed. Most strategies for developing critical thinking skills are based upon the idea of being open-minded -- that you are willing to analyze a given situation from all angles instead of accepting traditional wisdom without question. Developing these skills will help you succeed both in and out of the classroom.

Redefine Your Views

A key element in critical thinking is the willingness to consider alternate views so you can develop more refined opinions, which should include accepting that your current views might need adjusting. For example, if you encounter another student or a teacher who appears to dislike you, you might reason that you have done something wrong, or embody an undesirable characteristic. Instead, recognize that your current view is only one possibility, and that the reason this person dislikes you could be due to some discordant issue on his end. In fact, you might have been incorrect in assessing that the person disliked you in the first place, which could then lead you to analyze your interpretations of behavior.

Focus on Determining Fact from Fiction

When listening to a classmate or friend speak, show some hesitance to accept that information as fact. Instead, ask yourself what you actually know about the subject, and about the source of that classmate's knowledge. Is he actually an expert on the subject? Did he learn this information from a credible source, such as a textbook? Can he explain how he came to the conclusions he's asserting? You're not necessarily trying to prove anyone wrong, but you are trying to be clear that about whether or not you are taking in facts -- or opinions that are open for further investigation.

Question Quick Fixes

When working in a group, and a classmate offers a solution that seems hasty or too good to be true, don't readily accept it as the best plan for action. Instead, raise your concern to the group, or even conduct an investigation of your own; you can even write up a checklist of questions to ask yourself, such as: Did this group member fully understand the problem? Is he basing his idea on testable knowledge or direct personal experience, or is it hearsay? Analyze solutions to see if anything has been overlooked. You might find that the quick fix actually is the best plan. However, you might find that your desire to investigate has led you away from a bad strategy and toward success for your group.

Trust Your Intellect

While you do need to monitor your ego and any rigid opinions you possess for a lack of openness, you also need to trust that you are capable of analyzing a situation and reaching your own informed conclusions. Feelings of inferiority can come from almost anywhere in a school environment, and can hinder your critical thinking skills because they can make you feel as though the important decisions are better left to others. Trust yourself and your ability among classmates to assess situations, analyze data and draw intelligent conclusions.

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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