How to Cultivate Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is the ability to reason objectively and rationally. It's more than just knowing how to do math or memorizing facts—it involves analyzing information in a way that helps us make better decisions. Without this ability, we risk being led astray and believing fictitious information. It could hinder our progression and impact problem-solving.

BlogHow to Cultivate Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is the ability to reason objectively and rationally. It's more than just knowing how to do math or memorizing facts—it involves analyzing information in a way that helps us make better decisions. Without this ability, we risk being led astray and believing fictitious information. It could hinder our progression and impact problem-solving. 

According to neurologist Steven Novella, “We use critical thinking to think about how we run our civilization.” Our ancestors survived because they were able to use critical reasoning for survival. Critical thinking is more important now than ever because we have access to information from all over. As the amount of information increases, so does the need for critical thinkers to separate fact from fiction and make educated decisions based on evidence.  

Critical thinking skills 

For critical thinking, there are five skills one has to develop. There are many ways to sharpen these skills. We will discuss these in further detail later on.  

Critical Thinking is a necessary skill to develop in the modern age

Observation skills 

The ability to observe one's surroundings, pay attention to the details in a scenario or a person, and listen actively makes one a successful critical thinker.

Analytical skills 

Observing allows you to see the problem. Afterwards, it’s necessary to analyze it using facts and evidence.

Inference skills 

By using your experience and the information you have gathered, you should be able to draw inferences and conclusions from the data you have collected.

Communication skills 

Be it work or school, good communication skills are necessary. You can relay your thoughts, solutions, and opinions in a way people can understand.

Problem-solving 

Providing the most effective solution is what motivates you to do everything. Once the problem is analyzed, there’s a solution.

Whether you're analyzing an article or brainstorming new ideas with colleagues, critical thinking skills are essential for success. It’s true even if you are not a scientist or an academic. Here are some proven ways how to increase this skill:

Treat every experience as a learning opportunity

The first step toward developing your critical thinking skills is to be open to new experiences. When you're willing to listen and learn from the people around you, your brain will reward you with new perspectives that can help you make better decisions.

Be curious and never be shy to ask many questions. It leads to more knowledge, opinions, and understanding. For example, if someone asks for your opinion on a topic, don't just give them an answer—ask questions about their point of view so that they explain it in more detail. Express why your opinion matters or how it differs from theirs. If both methods of understanding each other's perspective fail, summarize everything. You could find a new solution together or have a clearer picture of the problem. 

This process will help develop critical thinking skills by encouraging individuals not only to think critically but also to communicate their thoughts effectively through active listening and self-awareness.

Read widely, and read well

Reading lets you explore the world in a way no other activity does—you can travel to other countries without leaving your home! And it's never too late or too early for anyone to start reading—you can read with your kids when they're young and still enjoy books later in life.

  • Read books, magazines, newspapers, and online articles
  • Read fiction and nonfiction novels 
  • Read a variety of different genres or topics
  • Read for pleasure, but also read to learn
A powerful method to improve critical thinking is reading different books

Research (Sidi Zunaidah et al.) studied the relationship between reading interest and critical thinking. The study used a rubric for the critical thinking skills test. The findings confirmed a positive correlation between higher reading interest and thinking abilities. 

Reading is the first step toward cultivating critical thinking skills. It is a great way to learn new things and increase mental aptitude. It can also develop your imagination, vocabulary, writing, and research skills.
Writing promotes critical reasoning 

Education is the pillar of critical thinking. We develop skills on how to read, write and articulate ourselves. It helps us in life, social circles, and future employment. Most of all, it allows us to develop critical reasoning skills. 

According to a study (Judith. A, and Arthur N), different types of writing improve critical skills. The study tested students on analytical writing, summary writing, and short answer studying. Analytical writing results in “deeper reasoning about less information.” Summary writing led to “focus on the whole text in more comprehension but more superficial ways.” 

The short answer questions led participants to focus on particular items of information. The conclusion is that appropriate writing activities skills will “enhance students’ thinking and reasoning.” It confirms that writing is a necessary process in learning and developing higher mental aptitude. 

Develop your inner voice by journaling with JournalOwl

There’s a study on how to increase critical learning among nurses by M. Oermann, S. Truesdell, and L. Ziolkowski. This is necessary in the medical field since healthcare workers make tough choices and save lives. They used “context-dependent test items designed to evaluate critical thinking.” 

These included clinical scenarios, patient data, and flow sheets. The nurses had to make a logical choice with the given information. It helped them train their minds and sharpen their reasoning skills. Education can have a hand in developing critical reasoning skills if done right. 

Writing can enhance the learning process. On a personal level, keeping a journal can have many benefits besides writing down your biggest secrets! Journaling can promote critical thinking because language requires reading, writing, and listening skills (Barbara. K Hahnemann). Writing is also a way to form one’s inner voice.

Learn to respond to criticism and debate with grace

If you take criticism personally, it can be hard to handle. However, criticism is not always destructive. There are two types:

Constructive criticism is generally helpful because it provides information that can help you improve your work or performance.

Nonconstructive or destructive criticism usually has no constructive purpose and may include personal attacks on you rather than your thoughts or work. It may be false facts or assumptions.

Debate challenges & promotes ideas, opinions, and thoughts - leading to better reasoning and critical thinking skills. 

When you receive a negative response from others about something you have done, do not automatically assume it was a personal attack against you. If someone offers feedback respectfully, consider their words and try to learn from them even if what they say is different from how you feel about yourself at the moment.

Some schools offer debate as a class or club. It’s not an educational subject like math or history, but it helps students increase critical reasoning skills. A study by Zeta Brown analyzes how debating is a teaching strategy. Students participated in weekly debates about children, family, and society. 

There are three main areas that the debate improved. These are researching different perspectives, class communication, and critical reasoning. Debating can complement other teaching methods. It teaches us that it’s possible to have two opposing views that are neither right nor wrong.

Understand and accept that most perspectives are biased

It’s necessary to know; because it allows you to move forward with a more open mind. When you hear someone's opinion or perspective, don't immediately think it’s right or wrong. Instead, ask yourself why someone thinks that way and what their experiences might have been for them to form such an opinion. Once you've done that, remember that everyone is prone to bias! 

S. Novella concludes, “People are extremely good at rationalizing beliefs when motivated by a desire to believe a certain conclusion.” The mind believes certain things, even if they’re untrue. For this reason, we cannot always expect to be right in our opinions and observations. To become better at critical reasoning, we need to accept this reality. 

Observe your thoughts closely - are you biased? 

Our biases may not always be intentional. Sometimes we aren't aware of our thoughts. For example: maybe one person grew up in poverty while another grew up wealthy. Perhaps one person experienced trauma while another never has before. Either way, these experiences will have shaped their opinions about certain things in life (like money), so try not to judge them as "right" or "wrong." 

Remember: no matter how much research or data points back up your position on something (or against someone), there could always be some other data that proves otherwise!

  • Give the opinions of others a fair chance
  • Don't jump to conclusions
  • Don't assume the other person is wrong or right
  • Don't assume the other person is stupid, smart, or evil

According to Novella, a way to use critical thinking when attempting to change someone’s mind is by using an analogy. Instead of challenging them, it pushes them to question their frame of thinking. 

Novella further expresses that thinking about thinking is when we comprehend logic and cognitive bias to “engage in metacognitive reasoning.” In this process, “we engage our frontal lobe function and inhibit our more primitive cognitive impulses.” By acknowledging biases, we can better act on them. Metacognitive can be achieved through this process and is a way to accept facts and logic.

Create new experiences 

From a very young age, participating in activities such as visiting an art gallery, zoo, theater or museum has been monumental in the development of children. Nancy Lampert’s study of an art program designed to enhance the critical thinking of elementary children proves this. Qualitative observations and quantitative critical thinking assess their gains. 

The findings show a significant increase in critical thinking scores. School field trips were more common in the early 2000s but have decreased with time. This is to cut costs and give more time to subjects like calculus. Parents with higher incomes still send their children to such places. Others might not be able to afford it, which makes their children less culturally rich and limits critical thinking skills development. 

The trick is to create new experiences. Try new things, go to places you've never been, and try out new activities. The more you do this, the better your brain will work at processing information and making connections.

Activities anyone can do at home

Developing your imagination through creative pursuits is a fun way to keep your mind active. Creative activities can be at home or in public, but no matter what you decide, there should always be a sense of playfulness.

Try art. Be it painting, drawing, or sculpting. Creating something with your hands is an excellent way to stimulate both sides of the brain and build new neural pathways. The more you practice creating things (no matter how awful they may appear), the better!

Take up baking or cooking classes so that you can learn how to make delicious treats from scratch! It will also allow you to learn about new ingredients and improve your math skills by calculating measurements correctly.

Try fun games and puzzles!

The most basic way to stimulate your mind is by learning something new about the world around you. Puzzles and games are great ways for adults (and kids!) to exercise their brains without thinking too hard about it—the key is engaging all parts of our minds simultaneously so they can work together more effectively on tasks like planning or problem-solving.

Games and puzzles, notably chess, sudoku, and word puzzles, are fun ways to develop critical thinking skills. It’s ideal for children, teenagers, and adults. A study found that playing chess improves math and critical thinking(Gener S. Subia et al.)

There was a positive correlation between students who played chess and had high intelligence and math skills. Chess helps develop strategy and problem-solving skills. Playing it works the brain more and sharpens the ability to be steps ahead of opponents. The added benefit of using chess to develop critical thinking skills is that it’s a fun sport or activity. 

Games like chess and sudoku increase mental aptitude.

Be prepared to change your mind 

We all change our minds from time to time. You might have recently decided that you don't like pineapple on pizza, or perhaps you've decided to start wearing a new hairstyle.

What if someone asked why? Would you be able to explain what prompted this change of heart? If not, then it's likely that your mind hasn't changed. Instead, the situation has changed, and your opinion too.

It’s important because it shows that even when ideas seem set in stone and impossible to budge (like the belief that pineapple belongs on pizza), they're fluid and can be changed. Adapting beliefs is essential if we want them to remain relevant over time as circumstances change around us—and it's one skill we should strive for as critical thinkers!

A step in critical reasoning is considering two separate views. When we make a one-sided opinion, it could be biased — or worse, wrong! According to S. Novella, we are prone to “flaws in logic, called logical fallacies, in which we tend to make illogical connections.”

It’s easy to believe what we know is true even if it’s not. Understanding this helps because you accept that you might be wrong. Being able to change our minds or opinions helps us grow and become better critical thinkers.  

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in critical thinking – some people are naturally better at it than others. There are many strategies you can use to improve your mental aptitude, but it takes time and patience before you see results!

Critical thinking is a skill that takes years to develop, but it's worth it! The best part is you can increase it on your own. It can be a powerful tool in any situation. It’s not just a skill that will help you ace tests or get an A on your paper. It will also help you succeed at work and maintain healthy relationships with friends and family members, resulting in better decisions about what you want in life. 

The more we learn about the world around us, the better equipped we are to make informed decisions. Since critical thinking is a skill that can improve with practice, it’s never too late to start cultivating your own. With this guide, we hope to provide handy tips on how anyone can improve their critical thinking skills and become better at tackling life’s challenges.  

References

Book by: Professor Steven Novella

Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills

Judith. A, Arthur. M 

How writing shapes thinking: A study or teaching and learning 

Barbara A. Brunt 

Models, measurements, and strategies for developing critical-thinking skills 

M. Oermann, S. Truesdell and L. Ziolkowski

Strategy to assess, develop, and evaluate critical thinking 

Zeta Brown 

The use of in-class debates as a teaching strategy in increasing students’ critical thinking and collaborative learning skills in higher education

Gener S. Subia, Jennifer L. Amaranto, Jeff C. Amaranto, Jacinto Y. Bustamante, Irene C. Damaso

Chess and Mathematics Performance of College Players: An Exploratory Analysis

Judith S. Nappi

The Importance of Questioning in Developing Critical Thinking Skills


 

Nancy Lampert 

A study of an after-school art program and critical thinking