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5 ways to improving critical thinking: Practical essential skills and tips

Written by Staff Writer

February 27, 2024

5 ways to improving critical thinking: Practical essential skills and tips

By Raine St.Claire

Critical thinking is frequently identified as an individual skill (commonly listed as a trait in various job descriptions). However, it’s more accurate to consider critical thinking as not just a standalone skill but as a collection or category of skills.

Critical thinking is highly valued by employers, with 81% considering it crucial in evaluating job candidates. It’s the top competency sought by companies when hiring recent graduates, even ahead of communication skills. Additionally, studies show that possessing strong critical thinking skills is closely linked to better job performance after being hired.

To engage in critical thinking, you’ll have to leverage several other soft skills. 

Solving brain teasers, like the examples below, is not only fun but also proven to enhance critical thinking, which is crucial for success in your career.

Visual puzzle

Question: What comes once in a minute, twice in a moment, but never in a thousand years?

Answer: The letter ‘M’.

Pattern recognition

Question: What comes next in the sequence: 2, 6, 12, 20, …?

Answer: 30. (The pattern is adding consecutive even numbers: 2 + 4 = 6, 6 + 6 = 12, 12 + 8 = 20, and so on.)

What exactly is critical thinking?

While it may seem simple in theory, enhancing critical thinking skills for effective decision-making, requires deliberate practice. Which helps explain why 65% of employers express the need for more critical thinking in their organisation.

Critical thinking means looking at facts, staying objective, and making informed decisions about how to move forward.

It also goes beyond just being smart or analytical. It means stepping outside yourself, letting go of preconceived ideas, and approaching problems with curiosity and fairness. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it. Critical thinking helps you connect ideas, make sensible decisions, and solve complex problems.

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Here are 7 essential skills that contribute to effective critical thinking:

  1. Open-mindedness
    • Embrace the idea that anything is possible
    • Set aside personal suspicions, beliefs, and agenda
    • Practice self-regulation and challenge your biases
  2. Observation
    • Develop the ability to notice and process details
    • Be flexible and willing to go beyond surface-level information
  3. Research
    • Leverage research skills to gather relevant information objectively
    • Prioritise quality over quantity in data collection
  4. Analysis
    • Separate relevant information from irrelevant details
    • Identify trends, themes, and draw conclusions based on influential facts
  5. Inference
    • Draw informed conclusions based on available evidence
    • Accept that, at some point, a decision must be made to move forward
  6. Communication
    • Effectively communicate findings to relevant stakeholders
    • Use analysis skills to determine the necessary information to share
  7. Problem-solving
    • Apply critical thinking skills to narrow down and solve specific problems
    • Understand the distinction between critical thinking and problem-solving
5 Tips to improve critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. It’s not as instinctive as you might hope, but the good news is that your critical thinking skills are something you can learn and enhance—they’re not innate talents. Here are five effective strategies to help you improve your critical thinking skills:

  • Practise active listening

Active listening is a key component of critical thinking. It helps you process and understand what others are sharing, which is crucial when aiming to be open-minded and inquisitive.

  • Ask open-ended questions

When collecting feedback and opinions from others, pose open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses. This approach not only provides you with more valuable information but also prevents your own biases from influencing people’s input.

  • Scrutinise your sources

Critical thinking relies on objectivity, and to be objective, you need to base your judgments on reliable facts. Enhance your media literacy, ask more questions, and be discerning about the information you consider. Balancing scepticism with open-mindedness is essential for drawing better conclusions.

  • Engage in games and exercises

Simple games and exercises, like brain teasers or critical thinking puzzles, can significantly improve your critical thinking skills. These activities challenge your mind and encourage you to think more deeply about problems. 

  • Give yourself time

Rushed decisions are often regrettable. Critical thinking takes time, and you can’t effectively do it under pressure. For significant decisions or complex problems, allocate sufficient time and space to work through the critical thinking process without feeling rushed.

While critical thinking may not come naturally, the effort to develop these skills is worthwhile. In a world inundated with biases and surface-level information, cultivating critical thinking abilities ensures more reasoned judgments, solid conclusions, and ultimately, better decisions.

 

Source: HarvardBusiness |HRDrive|National Association of Colleges and Employers |Pearson

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