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Critical Thinking Skills: What Are They and How do I Get Them?

Everyone knows that demonstrating the ability to think critically on tests and assignments and in writing is the way to your teacher’s or professor’s heart. But how do you do that when you don’t even know what critical thinking is? Although “critical thinking” is a much debated term, I would simply call it your ability to analyze a given issue or problem. Okay, great, you say ... so what the heck does that mean?

Well ... it depends. There’s all sorts of different types of analysis. A math problem, for example, requires a different type of analysis from say the analysis of a world history essay prompt. Trying to figure out ... or analyze ... , the different reasons why your dog threw up on your favorite pair of sneakers is a bit different from trying to figure out why the author of novel chose to kill off the main character of the book you were just assigned to read.

Although, I can see where my description of analysis above might frustrate those expecting a straightforward answer, the good news is that most types of analysis can be taught and are strictly confined to the subject matter to which your issue, assignment, or essay prompt relates. This means that by learning the definitions and applications of the specific types of analytical “tools” found in the subjects you are studying, and by practicing them sufficiently, you will be able to think critically in that subject.

Below are some common analytical “tools” that appear in various Literature and History courses. There are plenty of other analytical “tools” for other subjects, but to keep things brief I only included these as an example to show that critical thinking is fairly subject-specific and not as broad, undefined and abstract as most students initially believe.

Literature Critical Thinking/Analytical Tools:

· Main idea

· Author’s style

· Theme

· Inference

· Importance of Setting

History Critical Thinking/Analytical Tools:

· Synthesizing of information

· Understanding bias

· Evaluating changes in historical periods

· Deducing a conclusion from observed facts