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85 Critical Thinking Questions to Carefully Examine Any Information

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The ability to think critically will often determine your success in life.

Let’s face it. Every day, we are bombarded by news, social media updates, and an avalanche of information. If you take all of this at face value, it’s easy to be deceived, misled or ripped off.

That’s why it’s important to  develop a mindset that focuses on critical thinking . This is a skill that needs to be developed in the classroom. But it’s also a valuable life skill.

With that in mind, the following post will share 85 critical thinking questions you can use to increase your awareness about different problems by carefully examining available information. 

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents

What Are Critical Thinking Questions?

Critical thinking questions are inquiries that help you think rationally and clearly by understanding the link between different facts or ideas. These questions create a seemingly endless learning process that lets you critique, evaluate, and develop a depth of knowledge about a given subject. Moreover, you get to reinforce your viewpoints or see things in a new way.

We make decisions every day, whether at work or home. Adopting logical, rational, and practical approaches in addressing various issues requiring critical thinking is essential in decision-making. Therefore, before arriving at a decision, always ask yourself relevant questions and carefully analyze the matter’s pros and cons.

Critical Thinking Questions When in an Argument

When you make an argument using a critical thinking approach, you focus on justified claims that are valid and based on evidence. It helps one establish a strong argument.

  • Do I disagree with the other person? Might the person I'm arguing with be misinformed on what they are saying?
  • Would I be comfortable saying what I am telling him/her if I was in front of a group of people? 
  • What would happen if I lose this argument? Is engaging in this argument worth my time and energy? How will I feel if I lose?
  • Is there room for ambiguity or misinterpretation? Are we arguing because I didn't make my point explicit? Should I take my time to understand his school of thought?
  • Do I need some rest before saying something? Am I arguing because of other reasons other than the issues at hand? Do I need to take some time and cool down?

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  • Is it more important that I’m right? Am I trying to ask to prove an unnecessary point?
  • Is this argument inductive, deductive, or abductive? Is it a weak or strong argument that I need to engage in? Is it compelling or sound? 
  • Is my opponent sincere? Given that they are wrong, are they willing to admit that they are wrong? Can they depend on available evidence, wherever it leads?
  • Are my opponents only trying to shift their burden to me? What is the best way to prove them wrong without making them feel bad?
  • Are the people I'm arguing with only interested in winning, or are they trying to pass some information across and help me discover the truth?

Critical Thinking Questions When Reading a Book 

When you read a book, you probably ask yourself many “why” questions. Why is this a problem? Why did the character say that? Why is this important? The most challenging part of reading a book is assessing the information you are reading. These questions can help.

  • If I learn only two things from this book, what will they be? How will they help me? How will I apply them in my daily life?
  • What message are the authors trying to pass across? Are they making suggestions or providing evidence for their arguments?
  • Given that almost every book is about solving problems, what is the most prevalent issue that the author is trying to solve?
  • What is the author’s writing style? What strategy or master plan does the author employ to convey his/her main ideas throughout the book?
  • Do I have background information about the book’s topic? If so, how is what the author is saying different from what I already know?
  • What didn’t I understand from the book? Should I re-read the book to understand everything the writer is trying to convey?
  • Which sections of the book do I love the most, and why? Generally, do I like this book? Should I look for more books that are written by the same author?
  • If I had a chance to meet this book’s author, what questions would I ask him/her? What would I tell the writer about the book? Is it a great book worth recommending to your friends and family members?
  • Who are the main characters of the book? If there is only one main character, what overarching goal does the character accomplish?
  • In what ways did the protagonist change from the start of the book to the end? What caused the changes? Was the protagonist reckless in some ways? Which ways?

Critical Thinking Questions to Spot a Scam

Asking questions when you feel that a fraud or a scam is being presented to you is a good way to stretch your critical thinking muscles. Are you being emailed or messaged by a stranger? Or maybe there are other red flags you are unsure about. If so, ask these questions.

  • Does it seem to be too good to be true? Is this stranger pushy or trying to lure me into making a poor decision?
  • When trying out online dating: Is my new “friend” professing strong feelings towards me although we’ve only interacted for a few hours?
  • Why is a stranger calling me to ask about my Social Security Number (SSN), personal contact information, or bank details while claiming they are from the bank or a phone company? 
  • When buying products online, why does the seller ask me to pay for goods using an insecure payment option like Bitcoin or money order?
  • Does the email I have received have any spelling or grammatical errors? Is the language used overly formal or informal?
  • If I do a quick search about the exact words of the email I received, does Google indicate it's a fraud or scam?
  • Why should a stranger manipulate me using obvious questions like “Would you want to be rich or poor?” While they already know the answer?
  • Is the email asking me to download an attachment? Or click a link to some insecure website? 
  • Is the person trying to make me feel selfish or guilty for not sending them money, whether for a donation or buying a product? 
  • Is the stranger portraying a sense of urgency and using pressure tactics? Are they telling me that their family member needs urgent medical attention?

Critical Thinking Questions About Your Life

It can also help to ask yourself a few critical thinking questions about your life. This way, you can gather basic information and uncover solutions to problems you might not have otherwise thought of.

  • Where do I wish to be in a few years, probably two, three, or five years? What short-term and long-term goals should I set?
  • What have I achieved so far from the time I set my previous goals? What should I be grateful for?
  • Do I have any values that guide me in life? If so, what are these values? Am I always true to these values?
  • Am I always worried about what people around me think? Can I act independently without the need to meet social expectations?
  • What should people say about me at my funeral? Would they talk about how good I made them feel or how rich and flashy I was?
  • If I wasn't afraid of anyone or anything, what would I have done? What if I didn't have any fear in me?
  • If today was my last day, what extraordinary thing would I do? Can I do it right now?
  • What should I do with the things that matter the most to me? 
  • What things will make the greatest difference in my future life if I take action now?
  • How should I react when I feel unwanted by the people I love the most? Should I tell them?

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Critical Thinking Questions for a Debate or Discussion

When you are in the middle of a debate or discussion, you need to know that what you are saying is fact, have evidence to support your claim, and position yourself as an expert in what you are saying. Here are some critical thinking questions to ask when you are in a debate or discussion.

  • Is there fairness in this discussion? Is the moderator supporting one side? Do they want to make one side look stupid or wrong? 
  • What is the aim of this discussion? Is there a major problem that needs to be solved? If so, how can I help solve it?
  • Who are the people affected by this discussion? If they were here, what would they say?
  • Do my views on this discussion matter? If I raise my point, will I be redundant?
  • What am I supposed to learn from this debate, and how can I use what I have learned in my daily life?
  • Does the audience seem to be biased towards one side? Are they booing one side? What can I do even if it's our opponents being booed?
  • Who are the discussion panel members? What views have they held about this kind of discussion or any other related discussions in the past?
  • How can I make my point without being ambiguous? Before I speak, should I take down some notes to avoid any confusion during my speech?
  • Am I ready to apologize if I make a mistake during the discussion? If so, what are the limits?
  • What information does my team, or I need before this discussion? 

Critical Thinking Questions About Lying

Admitting when you are wrong, choosing not to cheat, and sharing constructive feedback are all ways to show your honesty. Here are some critical thinking skills to ask regarding lying.

  • Will the lie hurt those I am telling, or will it help them? What if being honest might cause my friend unnecessary pain?
  • Should I be the one telling this person a lie, or I let someone else do it? 
  • Will I be the one hurt if I tell this lie? Will my friend feel I am a betrayer? Will it affect our friendship?
  • Do they answer my questions in detail, or are they always trying to ignore and dodge the main problem?
  • What if I ask these people the same question using different terms and wording? Will they give me the same response?
  • Did the tone of my friend suddenly change after I asked him/her this question? Do they sound louder, faster, or slower compared to how they usually speak?
  • Does this person have something to gain by lying to me? What is their motive?
  • Does this person take a sudden pause or hesitate more than usual when responding to my question?
  • When I look at these people's faces, do their facial expressions match what they say?
  • Should I believe this person or not? What are my intuitions? Does it look like they are telling the truth?
  • Do they blink like other days when I ask them questions? Are they always trying to avoid direct eye contact?
  • Why do they seem uncomfortable when it’s just a normal conversation?  

Critical Thinking Questions When Presented With a Claim

Critical thinking is much more than just evaluating whether a claim is true or not. It also means a critical thinker reflects on what follows from true claims.

  • What does this claim mean, and what are its implications? What if it's a false claim?
  • Which of my morals, values, or beliefs do I have to give up to accept this claim?
  • Do professionals in this field agree or disagree with the claim that has been made?
  • Do they have evidence to back their claim? Which is the most robust evidence to support the claim?
  • What argument can I come up with to refute this claim? Or what is the best view that can support this claim?
  • Who is the primary source of the claim being made? Is the basis of the claim reliable?
  • Is it a claim, or it's just an opinion?
  • Is the claim likely to be 100% false, true, or partially true?
  • Am I allowed to refute the claim and table my evidence, or is it one-sided?

Critical Thinking Interview Questions

Critical thinking skills are valuable in any industry or field and for almost all roles. During a job interview, you will be asked questions so the potential employer can assess your skills and see how you use logic. Your critical thinking ability is just one vital part that can play into your professional development.

  • Is there a time you had to convince someone to use an alternate approach to solve a problem?
  • Have you ever had to make a difficult decision quickly?
  • How would you handle a situation where your supervisor handled something wrong or made a mistake?
  • What is one of the most difficult decisions you have ever had to make at work?
  • How would you solve a disagreement between coworkers when approaching a project?
  • Can you describe a time when you anticipated a problem ahead of time and took the appropriate steps to stop the problem from becoming an issue?
  • If you discover a cheaper way to do something or a better solution to a problem and try to explain it to your supervisor, but they don’t understand, what do you do?

Critical Thinking Questions for Kids

We can’t leave the kids out either. Critical thinking questions for kids get them thinking and talking. It also allows a parent to get to know their child better.

  • How many grains of sand do you think are on the beach?
  • What would happen if it stopped raining?
  • Do you think there is life on other planets?
  • Should children be able to set their own bedtimes?
  • How would you describe what a tree looks like without saying green or leaves?
  • Can you name five different emotions?
  • Can you talk for five minutes without uttering “um?”

What Are the Basic Principles of Critical Thinking?

Your critical thinking skills involve gathering complete information, understanding and defining terms, questioning the methods by which we get facts, questioning the conclusions, and looking for hidden assumptions and biases.

Additionally, we can’t expect to find all of the answers, and we need to take the time to examine the big picture of it all.

Here are the basic principles:

  • Disposition: Someone with critical thinking skills is often skeptical, open-minded, and practices fair-mindedness. They can look at different viewpoints and change positions if the evidence and reason lead them to do so.
  • Criteria: In order to think critically, one must also apply criteria. Certain conditions must be met before someone believes in something. The information needs to be from credible sources.
  • Argument: An argument is simply a statement or proposition that is shown with supporting evidence. When you use your critical thinking skills, you identify, evaluate, and construct your argument.
  • Reasoning: With critical thinking comes reasoning. You must examine logical relationships among the statements being made.
  • Point of View: Critical thinkers can see things from different perspectives and different points of view.

What Are Good Analysis Questions?

Analysis is a part of critical thinking that allows you to examine something carefully. Someone with analytical skills can examine the information presented, understand what that information means, and then properly explain that information to others. Analysis in critical thinking provides more clarity on the information you process.

When analyzing, you may ask yourself, “how do I know this,” how would I solve this problem,” and “why does it matter?”

Why Is Critical Thinking an Important Skill?

Critical thinking skills allow you to express thoughts, ideas, and beliefs in a better way. It also leads to improved communication while allowing others to understand you better. Critical thinking fosters creativity and encourages out-of-the-box thinking. This is a skill that can be applied to many different areas of your life.

For example, knowing the answers to critical thinking questions for a job interview will better prepare you for the interview. Many employers, during questioning, are likely to ask you critical thinking questions to assess if you have the ability to evaluate information effectively so you can make more informed decisions.

Final Thoughts on Critical Thinking Questions

Although it's common to get torn between making two or more choices, nobody wants to make the wrong decision. The only thing you can do to avoid this is use critical thinking questions to examine your situation. The answers to these questions will help you make informed decisions and help you comprehend crucial matters in your life. 

Want to learn more about critical thinking and decision-making using a real-life example? Here is  how Jeff Bezos uses critical thinking  to make some of the most challenging life decisions.

Finally, if you want to ask better questions, then watch this short, 20-minute course to learn how to have a great conversation with virtually anyone .

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Are you a critical thinker? Find out with this quiz!

Are you a critical thinker? Find out with this quiz!

Introduction

Critical thinking skills are essential for navigating our complex and rapidly changing world. Whether we’re making important decisions or evaluating information, the ability to think critically is paramount. But what exactly is critical thinking, and how do we know if we have it?

To find out, take our quiz! This quiz is designed to test your critical thinking skills and analytic reasoning. By answering these ten multiple choice questions, you’ll get a sense of where you stand in terms of critical thinking ability.

So why is critical thinking so important? In today’s world, we’re bombarded with information from a variety of sources, much of which may be misleading or false. Without the ability to think critically, we risk falling prey to misinformation and making poor decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate information. That’s why it’s more important than ever to develop our critical thinking skills.

Ready to put your critical thinking abilities to the test? Let’s get started with the quiz!

Take this quiz to find out if you have a strong foundation in critical thinking and analytic reasoning. The quiz consists of 10 multiple-choice questions, each with four answer options. Choose the option you believe is the best answer based on the information provided in the question.

Instructions:

  • Read each question carefully before selecting an answer.
  • Choose the option you believe is the best answer based on the information provided in the question.
  • Once you have answered all questions, click ‘Submit’ to receive your score and level of critical thinking.

Sample Question: What is the difference between correlation and causation? A. Correlation is when two variables are associated, while causation is when one variable directly affects another. B. Correlation and causation are the same thing. C. Correlation is when one variable directly affects another, while causation is when two variables are associated. D. Correlation and causation cannot be distinguished from one another.

Score Breakdown:

  • 0-3 correct answers: Beginner level
  • 4-6 correct answers: Intermediate level
  • 7-9 correct answers: Advanced level
  • 10 correct answers: Expert level

After completing the quiz, you can determine your level of critical thinking based on your score:

  • Score of 0-3: Novice Critical Thinker
  • Score of 4-6: Intermediate Critical Thinker
  • Score of 7-9: Advanced Critical Thinker
  • Score of 10: Expert Critical Thinker

Novice Critical Thinker

If you scored between 0-3, you may struggle with basic critical thinking and may benefit from learning more about critical thinking skills and practicing them in everyday situations. Consider taking a critical thinking course or seeking out resources to improve your analytical reasoning.

Intermediate Critical Thinker

If you scored between 4-6, you have some critical thinking skills but may need to work on fully dissecting and analyzing information. Focus on sharpening your skills by practicing challenging critical thinking exercises and discussing complex topics with others.

Advanced Critical Thinker

If you scored between 7-9, you have strong critical thinking skills and can effectively analyze and evaluate information to reach logical conclusions. Continue to hone your skills by engaging with diverse perspectives and exploring new areas of thought.

Expert Critical Thinker

If you scored 10, you have exceptional critical thinking skills and can adeptly analyze and synthesize complex information. Keep up the good work and continue to challenge yourself to push the boundaries of your thinking.

Overall, everyone can benefit from honing their critical thinking skills as it contributes to better decision-making, problem-solving, and overall success in professional and personal life. Consider continuing to practice your critical thinking skills through various means such as reading, taking courses, and engaging in intellectual discussions.

In today’s world, critical thinking is a crucial skill that plays a vital role in both personal and professional development. The ability to analyze information, identify patterns, and make decisions based on evidence-based reasoning can help individuals succeed in their careers and lead a more fulfilling life.

We hope that this quiz has helped you gain a better understanding of your critical thinking ability. Remember, critical thinking skills can be developed and improved upon over time. By consistently challenging yourself to analyze different situations and viewpoints, you can enhance your problem-solving skills and make better decisions.

We encourage you to share this quiz with your friends and family members to see how they score. Together, we can create a community that values critical thinking and encourages each other to develop this important skill.

If you’re interested in learning more about critical thinking, check out our additional resources section. We’ve compiled a list of recommended books and articles that can help you improve your critical thinking skills and take them to the next level.

Additional Resources

Further reading.

  • The Art of Reasoning: An Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking by David Kelley
  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Online Resources

  • The Critical Thinking Community
  • Logical Fallacies
  • The Skeptic’s Dictionary
  • TED Ed: The Art of Reasoning

Recommended Articles

  • Why Critical Thinking Is Important: Take the Next Step
  • Teaching Critical Thinking Skills through Project-Based Learning
  • How to Develop Your Critical Thinking Skills
  • Six Ways To Strengthen Your Critical Thinking Skills
“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion. It refers to using cognitive skills such as attention, perception, analysis, inference, and evaluation, to develop possible solutions to problems and to arrive at decisions that are justified by reason and evidence.” - The Critical Thinking Community

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Critical Thinking test

By 123test team . Updated May 12, 2023

This Critical Thinking test measures your ability to think critically and draw logical conclusions based on written information. Critical Thinking tests are often used in job assessments in the legal sector to assess a candidate's  analytical critical  thinking skills. A well known example of a critical thinking test is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal .

Need more practice?

Score higher on your critical thinking test.

The test comprises of the following five sections with a total of 10 questions:

  • Analysing Arguments
  • Assumptions
  • Interpreting Information

Instructions Critical Thinking test

Each question presents one or more paragraphs of text and a question about the information in the text. It's your job to figure out which of the options is the correct answer.

Below is a statement that is followed by an argument. You should consider this argument to be true. It is then up to you to determine whether the argument is strong or weak. Do not let your personal opinion about the statement play a role in your evaluation of the argument.

Statement: It would be good if people would eat vegetarian more often. Argument: No, because dairy also requires animals to be kept that will have to be eaten again later.

Is this a strong or weak argument?

Strong argument Weak argument

Statement: Germany should no longer use the euro as its currency Argument: No, because that means that the 10 billion Deutschmark that the introduction of the euro has cost is money thrown away.

Overfishing is the phenomenon that too much fish is caught in a certain area, which leads to the disappearance of the fish species in that area. This trend can only be reversed by means of catch reduction measures. These must therefore be introduced and enforced.

Assumption: The disappearance of fish species in areas of the oceans is undesirable.

Is the assumption made from the text?

Assumption is made Assumption is not made

As a company, we strive for satisfied customers. That's why from now on we're going to keep track of how quickly our help desk employees pick up the phone. Our goal is for that phone to ring for a maximum of 20 seconds.

Assumption: The company has tools or ways to measure how quickly help desk employees pick up the phone.

  • All reptiles lay eggs
  • All reptiles are vertebrates
  • All snakes are reptiles
  • All vertebrates have brains
  • Some reptiles hatch their eggs themselves
  • Most reptiles have two lungs
  • Many snakes only have one lung
  • Cobras are poisonous snakes
  • All reptiles are animals

Conclusion: Some snakes hatch their eggs themselves.

Does the conclusion follow the statements?

Conclusion follows Conclusion does not follow

(Continue with the statements from question 5.)

Conclusion: Some animals that lay eggs only have one lung.

In the famous 1971 Stanford experiment, 24 normal, healthy male students were randomly assigned as 'guards' (12) or 'prisoners' (12). The guards were given a uniform and instructed to keep order, but not to use force. The prisoners were given prison uniforms. Soon after the start of the experiment, the guards made up all kinds of sentences for the prisoners. Insurgents were shot down with a fire extinguisher and public undressing or solitary confinement was also a punishment. The aggression of the guards became stronger as the experiment progressed. At one point, the abuses took place at night, because the guards thought that the researchers were not watching. It turned out that some guards also had fun treating the prisoners very cruelly. For example, prisoners got a bag over their heads and were chained to their ankles. Originally, the experiment would last 14 days. However, after six days the experiment was stopped.

The students who took part in the research did not expect to react the way they did in such a situation.

To what extent is this conclusion true, based on the given text?

True Probably true More information required Probably false False

(Continue with the text from 'Stanford experiment' in question 7.)

The results of the experiment support the claim that every young man (or at least some young men) is capable of turning into a sadist fairly quickly.

  • A flag is a tribute to the nation and should therefore not be hung outside at night. Hoisting the flag therefore happens at sunrise, bringing it down at sunset. Only when a country flag is illuminated by spotlights on both sides, it may remain hanging after sunset. There is a simple rule of thumb for the time of bringing down the flag. This is the moment when there is no longer any visible difference between the individual colors of the flag.
  • A flag may not touch the ground.
  • On the Dutch flag, unless entitled to do so, no decorations or other additions should be made. Also the use of a flag purely for decoration should be avoided. However, flag cloth may be used for decoration - for example in the form of drapes.
  • The orange pennant is only used on birthdays of members of the Royal House and on King's Day. The orange pennant should be as long or slightly longer than the diagonal of the flag.

Conclusion: One can assume that no Dutch flag will fly at government buildings at night, unless it is illuminated by spotlights on both sides.

Does the conclusion follow, based on the given text?

(Continue with the text from 'Dutch flag protocol' in question 9.)

Conclusion: If the protocol is followed, the orange pennant will always be longer than the horizontal bands/stripes of the flag.

Please answer the questions below. Not all questions are required but it will help us improve this test.

My educational level is

-- please select -- primary school high school college university PhD other

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Online Critical Thinking Basic Concepts Test

Assessing the Understanding of Basic Critical Thinking Concepts and Principles Developed by Dr. Linda Elder, Dr. Richard Paul, and Dr. Rush Cosgrove

The test is a t hree -p art, 100 -i tem t est . The test can be used at the high-school level and above, and it takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.

Click Here to Purchase the Full Test Click Here to Try the Sample Test

The test is based on the substantive approach to critical thinking developed by Dr. Paul and his colleagues at the Foundation for Critical Thinking over decades of work. It is the only critical thinking test that approaches critical thinking as a trans-disciplinary system of interconnected concepts, principles, and understandings.  It focuses on the five essential dimensions of critical thinking: 1.   The analysis of thought. 2.  The assessment of thought. 3.  The dispositions of thought. 4.  The skills and abilities of thought. 5.  The obstacles or barriers to critical thought.

The test is designed for use at the high school level (grade 10) and above (college, university, and graduate level). Our online testing software has been custom-developed by the Foundation for Critical Thinking to provide comprehensive grading and reporting for both the student and teacher. The test measures the extent to which students, faculty, or, indeed, any persons understand the fundamental concepts embedded in critical thinking. A high score provides evidence of the person having done some critical thinking about critical thinking. It implies that the person is more likely to think critically than someone scoring low on the test. It measures, in other words, the necessary understandings for thinking critically . Of course, the test cannot guarantee that persons with basic critical thinking understandings will use them effectively in their lives. No critical thinking test can. The Online Critical Thinking Basic Concepts Test can assist faculty in determining the extent to which they are succeeding (or not succeeding) in helping students develop the understandings which will enable them to think critically - through course content and through problems and issues they will face in their lives. Most importantly, use of the test, especially when combined with other effective critical thinking assessment approaches, has a high degree of consequential validity . In other words, proper use of the test will lead to greater emphasis on the fundamentals of critical thinking.  For a richer understanding of assessment in critical thinking, see our white paper: Consequential Validity: Using Assessment to Drive Instruction . In this paper, we focus on the primary purpose of assessment in instruction - improvement. The purpose of assessing instruction for critical thinking is to improve the teaching of discipline-based thinking (historical thinking, biological thinking , sociological thinking , mathematical thinking, and so on). It is to improve students’ abilities to think their way through content, problems, and issues using disciplined skill in reasoning. The more particular we can be about what we want students to learn about critical thinking, the better can we devise instruction with that particular end in view. Nothing is more important in this process than our conceptualization of critical thinking, which is why we advocate a substantive, robust, trans-disciplinary conception of critical thinking. Use of this test can be an important part of the critical thinking assessment process, in providing faculty with data illuminating the extent to which students are learning or have learned the fundamentals of critical thinking. The test may also be used by administrators - for example, in connection with accreditation processes - to assess faculty understanding of critical thinking basic concepts and principles, and therefore readiness to foster critical thinking. The test provides statistical group data on the test as a whole, as well as on essential critical thinking understandings. It may be used in a pre/post format, and students may retake the test up to eight times with no additional charge per student over a four-year period. Home study teachers or companies wishing to use the test to assess employee understandings of critical thinking may also benefit from use of the test. This test is licensed for use only on this website (www.criticalthinking.org). It may not be copied, nor may it be utilized through other distribution methods. The Foundation for Critical Thinking reserves the right to modify the test in any way it deems fit and at any time.

How Is the Test Packaged and Licensed? This test is sold on a per-student basis, not per test. Each student may take the test up to 8 times over 4 years. We believe that this test is a valuable assessment, learning, and development tool when taken multiple times. Online test results are analyzed and compared over time to show one's progress in understanding core concepts of critical thinking, and to assist in the development of that understanding. We suggest a testing schedule of 2 to 4 times per year in a pre/post test format. How to Purchase the Test The test is licensed for Groups and Institutions starting with a minimum of 10 licenses per purchase. There is no setup fee for this test. An administrative account is automatically created upon purchase. Please note the total number of licenses purchased should include one license for the Administrator (e.g. if you have 50 students, you need to purchase 51 licenses in total - one for the Administrator, and one for each student.)

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Critical Thinking Test

A Critical Thinking test, also known as a critical reasoning test, determines your ability to reason through an argument logically and make an objective decision. You may be required to assess a situation, recognize assumptions being made, create hypotheses, and evaluate arguments. What questions can I expect? Questions are very likely to be based on the Watson and Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal model, which contains five sections specially designed to find out how good an individual is at reasoning analytically and logically. The five sections are: Arguments: In the argument section you are tested on your ability to distinguish between arguments that are strong and arguments that are weak. For an argument to be strong, it must be both important and directly related to the question. An argument is weak if it is not directly related to the question, of minor importance, or it confuses correlation with causation (which is incorrectly assuming that just because two things are related, they are the cause of each other). Assumptions: An assumption is something we take for granted. People make many assumptions which may not necessarily be correct; being able to identify these is a key aspect of critical reasoning. An assumption question will include a statement and a number of assumptions. You are required to identify whether an assumption has been made or not. Deductions: In deduction questions you have to draw conclusions based on only the information given in the question and not your own knowledge. You will be provided with a small passage of information and you will need to evaluate a conclusion made based on that passage. If the conclusion cannot be drawn from the information given, then the conclusion does not follow. Interpretation: In these questions you are given a passage of information followed by a proposed conclusion. You are to regard the information you are given as true and decide whether the proposed conclusion logically and beyond doubt follows. Inferences: Inference is a conclusion drawn from supposed or observed facts. It is information that does not appear directly in the given information, but is drawn from it. If, for instance, we go to a public restroom and find the door locked, we will assume/make the inference that it is occupied. Where are Critical Thinking tests used? These tests are used in graduate, professional, and managerial recruitment. They are very common in the legal and banking sector.

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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quiz critical thinking

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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Ryan, E. (2023, May 31). What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved March 8, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/critical-thinking/

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Critical thinking definition

quiz critical thinking

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
  • Which information resources should the author look to?
  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?

We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

We are a team specializing in writing essays and other assignments for college students and all other types of customers who need a helping hand in its making. We cover a great range of topics, offer perfect quality work, always deliver on time and aim to leave our customers completely satisfied with what they ordered.

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What is the Critical Thinking Test?

Critical thinking practice test, take a free practice critical thinking test, practice critical thinking test.

Updated November 16, 2023

Edward Melett

The Critical Thinking Test is a comprehensive evaluation designed to assess individuals' cognitive capacities and analytical prowess.

This formal examination, often referred to as the critical thinking assessment, is a benchmark for those aiming to demonstrate their proficiency in discernment and problem-solving.

In addition, this evaluative tool meticulously gauges a range of skills, including logical reasoning, analytical thinking, and the ability to evaluate and synthesize information.

This article will embark on an exploration of the Critical Thinking Test, elucidating its intricacies and elucidating its paramount importance. We will dissect the essential skills it measures and clarify its significance in gauging one's intellectual aptitude.

We will examine examples of critical thinking questions, illuminating the challenging scenarios that candidates encounter prompting them to navigate the complexities of thought with finesse.

Before going ahead to take the critical thinking test, let's delve into the realm of preparation. This segment serves as a crucible for honing the skills assessed in the actual examination, offering candidates a chance to refine their analytical blades before facing the real challenge. Here are some skills that will help you with the critical thinking assessment: Logical Reasoning: The practice test meticulously evaluates your ability to deduce conclusions from given information, assess the validity of arguments, and recognize patterns in logic. Analytical Thinking: Prepare to dissect complex scenarios, identify key components, and synthesize information to draw insightful conclusions—a fundamental aspect of the critical thinking assessment. Problem-Solving Proficiency: Navigate through intricate problems that mirror real-world challenges, honing your capacity to approach issues systematically and derive effective solutions. What to Expect: The Critical Thinking Practice Test is crafted to mirror the format and complexity of the actual examination. Expect a series of scenarios, each accompanied by a set of questions that demand thoughtful analysis and logical deduction. These scenarios span diverse fields, from business and science to everyday scenarios, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of your critical thinking skills. Examples of Critical Thinking Questions Scenario: In a business context, analyze the potential impacts of a proposed strategy on both short-term profitability and long-term sustainability. Question: What factors would you consider in determining the viability of the proposed strategy, and how might it affect the company's overall success? Scenario: Evaluate conflicting scientific studies on a pressing environmental issue.

Question: Identify the key methodologies and data points in each study. How would you reconcile the disparities to form an informed, unbiased conclusion?

Why Practice Matters

Engaging in the Critical Thinking Practice Test familiarizes you with the test format and cultivates a mindset geared towards agile and astute reasoning. This preparatory phase allows you to refine your cognitive toolkit, ensuring you approach the assessment with confidence and finesse.

We'll navigate through specific examples as we proceed, offering insights into effective strategies for tackling critical thinking questions. Prepare to embark on a journey of intellectual sharpening, where each practice question refines your analytical prowess for the challenges ahead.

This is a practice critical thinking test.

The test consists of three questions . 

After you have answered all the questions, you will be shown the correct answers and given full explanations.

Make sure you read and fully understand each question before answering. Work quickly, but don't rush. You cannot afford to make mistakes on a real test .

If you get a question wrong, make sure you find out why and learn how to answer this type of question in the future. 

Six friends are seated in a restaurant across a rectangular table. There are three chairs on each side. Adam and Dorky do not have anyone sitting to their right and Clyde and Benjamin do not have anyone sitting to their left. Adam and Benjamin are not sitting on the same side of the table.

If Ethan is not sitting next to Dorky, who is seated immediately to the left of Felix?

Job Test Prep

You might also be interested in these other PRT articles:

A Guide to the Watson Glaser Test: & Tips

Test Your Knowledge: Critical Thinking Quiz

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How well do you understand critical thinking? You can take this quiz with critical thinking MCQs with answers to test your knowledge. Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue or situation in order to form an accurate or rightful judgment. A person with this skill is highly regarded and prospers under different conditions. Check out our critical thinking quiz with critical thinking MCQs with answers designed to test students' basic knowledge of critical thinking. It is worth giving a try!

Critical Thinking Questions and Answers

Select the element which is not part of the critical thinking standards. .

Relativistic thinking

Completeness

Rate this question:

Which is not the characteristic of a critical thinker among the following? 

They use logical skills in reasoning.

They refuse to recognize the limitations of his mind and consistently pursue excellence.

They think independently and do not always succumb to peer pressure.

He upholds the standards of critical thinking.

What is the exact problem with relativistic thinking? 

There is no problem at all.

Relativistic thinking always promotes group opinions.

Relativistic thinking promotes a view that something is the truth because it is the truth in my point of view.

Relativistic thinking promotes absolute truth.

What is the definition of critical thinking? 

Higher-level thinking that aims to solve a problem.

Finding faults and weaknesses in other people's arguments.

Logically analyzing arguments in a critical way.

Disciplined thinking and judgment.

'For this entire semester, I've been playing and having fun every day. My studies are not going well. However, I believe I can score an A for the exam next week'.  What is the mistake that the person has committed here with respect to critical thinking? 

Wishful thinking

Egocentrism

Self-confident thinking

Moral subjectivism

Lecturer: You all should focus on this section. It's a critical section that requires a lot of thought and review. Peter: Ah, I know everything. This section is not a problem for me. I don't need to learn this.   What mistake has Peter committed here with respect to critical thinking?    

Self-serving bias

When you encounter information, what should be kept in mind?

Is it current?

Is it complete?

Is it accurate?

All of the above

What is the meaning of current information?

The topic is hot.

It is up to date.

It is complete information.

None of the above.

Which of these can be considered thinking critically?

Thinking emotionally

Thinking logically

Think actively and be aware of potential problems in the information you encounter.

None of the above

What is the worst thing for a critical thinker?

A logical mind

An emotional mind

Reaching to conclusion too soon.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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  • The Nature of Critical Thinking: An Outline of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities , by Robert H. Ennis

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Critical thinking puzzles for adults (with answers)

critical thinking puzzles

Critical thinking can help to better navigate the information-dense and complex world we live in. By thinking critically we can better identify priorities, take a sensible approach to problem-solving and reach conclusions logically in line with evidence. Puzzles are an excellent way both to learn and practice critical thinking skills.

If you’d like to learn more about critical thinking or simply practice your skills with some puzzles, then this is the article for you. Read a little bit more about critical thinking skills and how to apply them first, or just skip straight to the puzzles and see how you get on.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is a broad approach to problem solving and analysis based on logic and evidence. It brings together a wide range of intellectual competences and the ability to combine and cross-reference them. Some of the most important elements of a critical thinking approach include:

Analytical skills:

  • understanding of questions and concepts
  • differentiation of relevant / irrelevant evidence and information
  • identification of similarities, connections and differences
  • use of metaphors or analogies to communicate ideas

Powers of inference:

  • extraction of meaning from data using inductive or deductive reasoning
  • extrapolation of data or abstraction into concepts and patterns
  • correct identification and deployment of analogies and assumptions
  • grasp of causal relationships, allowing development of conclusions and theories.

Data and theory evaluation:

  • assessment of how strong, important or credible a theory might be
  • taking on board new data and new arguments which alter understanding of ideas and theory

Rational decision-making:

– application of all the skills and competences above in order to come to a rational conclusion.

Problem-solving attitude: In addition to being able to think critically, you must also be personally inclined to think critically when facing a difficult or complex challenge. Developing qualities including curiosity and fairness, while distancing yourself from ideologies and group-think, should all help to create the kind of psychological landscape where critical thinking can flourish.

How can I learn critical thinking?

Critical thinking skills are hard to develop from only reading books or listening to lectures. The most effective way to sharpen and deepen critical thinking faculties is to practice critical thinking . Critical thinking puzzles offer a fun way to learn and the eight critical thinking puzzles we’ve chosen for this article should help you make a good start.

quiz critical thinking

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Eight critical thinking puzzles – with answers

Puzzle 1 – letter puzzles.

What common feature do the following words share?

Answer: All of these words begin with a vowel. This type of puzzle may send your mind off in the wrong direction, thinking about the objects or concepts described by the words, and the properties they might share. In fact, the solution lies in a far more simple consideration of the alphabet. Puzzle 1 is a simple example of a common type of letter or word puzzle.

Puzzle 2 – Commonalities and differences

What do the following items have in common and which is the odd one out?

Orange Juice

Answer: These items are all liquids and the odd one out is petrol, since all the others are drinkable liquids.

Puzzle 3 – Falling on his feet

A man who lives in a high-rise building decides to exit through the window one morning rather than using the door. Somehow he survives the fall without a scratch and walks away to work. How did this happen?

Answer: The man lived on the ground or first floor and merely stepped or jumped down to the pavement outside. By stating early on that the building in question was a high-rise building, it’s easy for someone reading quickly to assume that the man jumped from a window on a high store but this it s not necessarily the case.

Puzzle 4 – Walk this way

A group of five people enter a windowless meeting room together. An hour later when the meeting ends, four walk out of the door, leaving the room empty. What has happened to the fifth member of the group?

Answer: The fifth person was in a wheelchair and wheeled out of the room rather than walked. Solving this puzzle requires you to think laterally about the question and the possible solutions. The answer can be found by asking yourself whether the emphasis of the question is on the emptiness of the room or the means by which the other four people left.

Puzzle 5 – Shapes and symbols

When lying on my side, I am everything, but when cut in half, I am nothing. What am I?

Answer: The number 8. This puzzle requires that you think about a shape being repositioned or cut in a way that can change it to “everything” or “nothing”. Number 8 on its side is the mathematical symbol for infinity (i.e. everything) and also shaped like two small number 0s put together.

Puzzle 6 – Three hard options

The hero is escaping the lair of an evil super-villain and is faced with three possible exits:

  • Door A leads into a pit of bubbling lava
  • Door B leads to a room housing a deadly hitman
  • Door C leads to the den full of lions that haven’t had a meal for a year.

Which door should the hero choose?

Answer: Door C. If the lion hasn’t eaten in a year, it will definitely be dead by now. This type of puzzle requires you to consider the full implications of the information given, rather than being drawn into a comparison of the relative dangers of lava, hitmen and lions…

Puzzle 7 – The bus driver’s eyes

You are a bus driver. Today the bus is empty at the start of your route but at the first stop, four people get onto the bus. Eight people get on at the second stop, while three alight. When the bus reaches the third stop, one more gets off, and three get on.

At the fourth stop, two people get off the bus and one gets on. The bus is traveling at an average speed of 30mph and its tires are new.  What color are the bus driver’s eyes?

Answer: You are the bus driver so the color will be the color of your own eyes. This type of puzzle tries to confuse you and obscure the single piece of relevant information by presenting large quantities of irrelevant information.

Puzzle 8 – Losing weight

A man walks into a room, closes the doors behind him and presses a button. In a matter of seconds the man is 20lb lighter. Despite this, he leaves the room at the same weight he entered it.

Answer: The room in question is actually an elevator. When the man gets in and presses the button, the elevator moves downwards with an acceleration that reduces the effect of gravity and makes the man temporarily 20lb lighter. Once the lift stops moving, the man’s weight is subject to normal gravity, just the same as before. Solving this puzzle requires a small piece of general physics knowledge.

A final word…

We hope you’ve enjoyed our critical thinking puzzles for adults and that your critical thinking skills are feeling refreshed and sharpened after reading our article. Whether at school, in the workplace, or in general life, critical thinking can be a valuable tool for success and anyone can learn to use it.

Get more critical thinking puzzles on our Youtube channel:

20 Challenging Lateral Thinking Puzzles That Are Harder Than They Seem

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Moment to moment, most thinking happens automatically. When you think critically, you deliberately employ any of the above intellectual tools to reach more accurate conclusions than your brain automatically would (more on this in a bit).

What is Critical Thinking?

refer to abilities to be open-minded, mindful, and analytical, and to evaluate, question, reason, hypothesize, interpret, explain, and draw conclusions.

refer to abilities to be close-minded, mindful, and analytical, and to evaluate, question, reason, hypothesize, interpret, explain, and draw conclusions

Critical thinking is the opposite of regular, everyday thinking.

How important is critical thinking in the classroom?

Not important

Slightly important

Very important

Which one is NOT part of the 7 critical thinking skills?

Problem Solving

Close-mindedness

  • 6. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt If you have a bowl with six apples and you take four, how many do you have? 4 apples 2 apples 1 apple 6 apples
  • 7. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt If you only had a match and entered a dark room that contains an oil lamp, firewood and a newspaper, what would you light first? the match Oil firewood the newspaper
  • 8. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt If an electric train moves north at 160km / h and a 16km / h wind blows west, where does the smoke go? there is no smoke From north to south from south to north upwards
  • 9. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt What goes up and down, but always stays in the same place? the stairs your feet your fingers your back
  • 10. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt What goes up, but never goes down? age the weight the gray hair belly
  • 11. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt If there are 12 fish in a fish tank and 5 of them drown, how many fish are left? 12 5 7 any
  • 12. Multiple Choice Edit 30 seconds 1 pt Which word in the dictionary is spelled incorrectly? Dictionary Phenomenon Entrepreneur Incorrectly

Which option is NOT a quality of a Critical Thinker?

Active Thinker

Self-Confident

Good Analysts

Which option is the correct process for Critical Thinking?

Designing, Prototyping, and Testing

Analyzing, Experimenting, and Observing

Gathering Information, Analyzing, and Finding a Solution/Conclusion

Gathering Information, Analyzing, and Evaluate

Critiquing your brain

Evaluating ideas

Testing Skills

Thinking in a critical way

When do uncritical thinkers get defensive?

When someone opposes them

All the time

When someone agrees with them

Which situations can critical thinking help?

School related

All of the above

Work related

Which answer is NOT a basic guideline for critical thinking?

Evaluate your opinions

Withhold judgement

Test your brain

Critical thinking has

interprets meaning

solves problems

Core critical thinking skills are (Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, explanation, self regulation). find the missing skill

problem solving

Inference as a core critical thinking skill is to identify elements needed to draw reasonable conclusion

Is this deffinition correct ? “ Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

Yes, it is.

No, it isn't.

What do you think about the following statement? Does it work at your school during the educational process ?

"Your teachers in high school won’t expect you to remember every little fact about his subject. They can fill in the details you’ve forgotten. What they will expect, though, is for you to be able to think ; to know how to make connections between ideas and evaluate information critically."

Here are a few key basic questions you can ask when approaching any problem:

What do you already know? How do you know that? What are you trying to prove, disprove, demonstrated, critique, etc.? What are you overlooking?

Try to add your personal questions related to problem solving.❣❣❣

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College & Research Libraries News  ( C&RL News ) is the official newsmagazine and publication of record of the Association of College & Research Libraries,  providing articles on the latest trends and practices affecting academic and research libraries.

C&RL News  became an online-only publication beginning with the January 2022 issue.

Grace Liu is the business librarian and associate professor at West Chester University (WCU)’s FHG Library, email: [email protected] .

Amy Pajewski is student success librarian and associate professor at the WCU FHG Library, email: [email protected] .

Rachel M. McMullin is the humanities librarian and professor at the WCU FHG Library, email: [email protected] .

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Grace Liu, Amy Pajewski, and Rachel M. McMullin

Evaluating Online Sources

Introducing a 4-Step Strategy

Grace Liu is the business librarian and associate professor at West Chester University (WCU)’s FHG Library, email: [email protected] . Amy Pajewski is student success librarian and associate professor at the WCU FHG Library, email: [email protected] . Rachel M. McMullin is the humanities librarian and professor at the WCU FHG Library, email: [email protected] .

© 2024 Grace Liu, Amy Pajewski, and Rachel M. McMullin

I n 2021, Grace Liu published an article titled “Moving Up the Ladder of Source Assessment: Expanding the CRAAP Test with Critical Thinking and Metacognition” in C&RL News . 1 This article was a result of collaboration with West Chester University management faculty aimed to enhance source evaluation practices by incorporating critical thinking and metacognition. The article introduced a 4-step source assessment strategy and documented our initial efforts to enrich source evaluation practices, aligning with the concepts of affective learning and metacognition outlined in ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. 2

Building on this work, over the past two years, the three authors of this article came together and further refined the source assessment strategy initially developed for the management class, adapting it to serve a wider audience of students from any discipline. We intended to create a learning module that can supplement one-shot library instruction and go into more depth in teaching source evaluation. With the support of a grant from the Committee for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at our institution, we developed a comprehensive learning module that adapts the initial 4-step strategy to focus on evaluating online sources, including videos, quizzes, exercises, infographic guides, and feedback surveys. 3

This article aims to introduce the new 4-step strategy for evaluating online sources to the academic librarian community. Our primary goal is to provide support to fellow librarians in their information literacy instruction, especially when confronted with the difficulties of teaching complex information evaluation skills within limited one-shot library instruction sessions. The approaches outlined in this strategy can be used in one-shot classes to initiate source evaluation discussions with students. Additionally, the learning module can be used outside of the classroom to extend students’ learning experiences. By sharing this strategy, we aspire to foster meaningful discussions and encourage the exchange of best practices among academic librarians regarding effective source evaluation strategies.

4-Step Strategy for Evaluating Online Sources

The 4-step strategy is designed to align with the natural process when encountering an article. It guides students through the series of evaluative steps including: (1) forming initial impressions by checking the six quality indicators of the online sources; (2) assessing quality using the CRAAP test, delving deeper into considerations of currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose; (3) applying critical thinking and lateral reading skills to evaluate the content from various perspectives and sources; and (4) reflecting on their own biases and assumptions throughout the evaluation. The level of analysis goes from simple to more substantial as one moves through the steps. It builds upon the familiar territory students may have encountered in K–12 education, but also pushes them to expand their analytical and reflective skills beyond that level.

Here are the 4-step strategies for evaluating online sources:

Step 1. Check and Identify: Get the First Impression

  • URL: Is the source recognizable or reputable? What is the domain name of the website (.gov, .edu, .org, .com, etc.)?
  • Date: When was the article written or updated? What time period is covered by the content?
  • Author: Is there an author? Is it a person or an organization?
  • About page: Does the website have an “About Us” page that describes who they are?
  • Links/citations to sources: Are there links or citations to other sources? Does it link to an internal or an external source?
  • Layout: Does it provide easy navigation? Does it contain too many distractions?

Step 2. Investigate and Discover: Gather More Evidence with the CRAAP Test

  • Currency: Is the article out of date for my topic? Can I find more current information?
  • Relevance: Does the content relate to my topic or answer my question? Is the source appropriate for research purposes?
  • Authority: Does the author(s) have education or experience that makes them an expert on this topic?
  • Accuracy: Is the information accurate? Where does it come from? Can I verify it with a source? Is the article under peer review or editorial review?
  • Purpose: What is the purpose of the website? What potential biases does it have?

Step 3. Read and Think: Use Lateral Reading and Critical Thinking Skills

  • Consult diverse sources: Have I looked at a variety of sources? Have I compared different perspectives?
  • Personal stories versus broader research: Is the source based on anecdotes or research? Is the research method valid and reliable? Who funds the research and what are their views and interest?
  • Logical reasoning versus fallacies: Are the arguments convincing? Does the evidence support the conclusion? Does it contain overgeneralizations?
  • Track evidence: Have I followed upstream and downstream sources (backward and forward citations) to gather all evidence? Can I reconcile the differences and form my own opinions?

Step 4. Reflect and Practice: Apply Metacognitive Skills and Reflective Practice

  • Pierce the filter bubbles: Am I surrounded by sources with the same views? Have I searched the other side of the story with opposite or neutral search terms?
  • Examine our own biases: Have I brought my own biases into source evaluation? Have I weighed the reasons from both sides? Do I favor this source because it affirms my belief?
  • Climb down the ladder of inference: Have I added personal or cultural meaning to understand the content? Are my assumptions or prior knowledge questionable? Have I come to the conclusion too quickly?
  • Practice what we learn: Have I applied the source evaluation strategies in real life? Am I aware of my own biases and cognitive limitations? Have I kept an open mind when forming my beliefs? Have I realized that a simple fact can be disruptive and suspend my judgment until I see the big picture?

The Strategy in Practice

After developing the strategy, we integrated it into the university’s learning management system (D2L), which not only made it more accessible but also scalable, allowing it to reach a larger number of students. During the fall semester of 2022, we introduced the learning module to the whole campus. Hoping to reach as many students as possible, we crafted a promotion plan that included multiple components. First, we promoted the learning module through our university-wide first-year writing and first-year experience programs as well as a campus-wide email to all faculty. Second, the development of our module happened to coincide with the debut of a co-curricular transcript program offered by our Office of Student Affairs, and we worked with them to include the 4-step strategy in that program. Finally, we marketed the module directly to students. We collaborated with our library communications technician to design marketing materials, including flyers distributed in the library and advertisements for the library homepage and campus digital signage.

Figure 1. Infographic guide to the 4-step strategy

Figure 1. Infographic guide to the 4-step strategy

As of February 1, 2024, a total of 1,785 students have completed the module and received a certificate of completion. We also embedded a survey in the module to gather feedback from the participants. As of February 1, 2024, we had also received responses from 1,696 students. According to the survey results, 77.6% of the respondents indicated that they acquired new knowledge that would help them in evaluating online sources. Additionally, 78.8% reported feeling more confident about their ability to evaluate online sources after completing the module. An encouraging 83.4% of the participants expressed their intention to apply the knowledge and skills they gained from the learning module in the future. These outcomes indicate that the learning module has been effective in enhancing students’ understanding, confidence, and intention to use the strategies taught in evaluating online sources.

Accessing the Learning Materials

The infographic guide to the 4-step strategy is included in this article as figure 1. All the learning materials are also made available via ACRL Framework Sandbox, including links to the videos, a high-resolution PDF version of the guide, video scripts, and exercises with answer keys. 4 The instructional videos are presented on a dedicated Google site. 5 All the materials provided are distributed under a CC BY Creative Commons License for sharing. So, you can adapt these materials to make your own learning modules to fit the specific needs of the instruction program on your campus.

Although we recognize that our approach may not fully address the complexities of source evaluation, we are dedicated to continuous improvement. We highly appreciate feedback from librarians, as it will greatly contribute to enhancing and refining this learning module. We have provided a link for librarians to share their feedback: https://forms.gle/HCQqUBe1zQbMkcb18 . We strongly believe that by working collaboratively and consistently refining the approach, we can bring significant benefits to both our librarian community and the learners we serve.

  • Grace Liu, “Moving Up the Ladder of Source Assessment: Expanding the CRAAP test with Critical Thinking and Metacognition,” C&RL News 82, no. 2 (2021), https://doi.org/10.5860/crln.82.2.75 .
  • ACRL, “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education,” 2016, https://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework .
  • More details on the development of the learning module are available at Grace Liu and Amy Pajewski, “Leveraging Campus Partnerships: Developing and Promoting a Learning Module to Scaffold Students’ Ability to Evaluate Online Sources,” LOEX Conference Proceedings, 2023, https://commons.emich.edu/loexconf/ .
  • Grace Liu, “4-Step Strategy for Evaluating Online Sources [A Learning Module],” https://sandbox.acrl.org/library-collection/4-step-strategy-evaluating-online-sources-learning-module .
  • Grace Liu, “4-Step Strategy for Evaluating Online Sources,” https://sites.google.com/view/4-step-evaluating-sources .

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