Critical thinking

Critical thinking allows you to go beyond a superficial understanding of your course material, write better assignments and better evaluate your own work.

A critical thinker is able to evaluate and analyse arguments objectively and come to a reasoned conclusion based on the information presented to them. Critical thinking is an active learning process.

When is critical thinking important?

Critical thinking is particularly important at university. It is also reflected in the University of Auckland graduate capabilities.

“Graduates of the University are expected to be able to contest knowledge and practice, critically consider ideas, texts and research and think reflectively and reflexively.”

Critical thinking can be applied to any endeavour and is particularly sought after by employers who want staff who can logically evaluate a situation or problem and come up with well-reasoned solutions.

What is critical thinking?

Learn more about what critical thinking involves at university by watching the video below.

There are a few key techniques you can employ to think critically:

  • Be inquisitive and ask questions.
  • Be open minded and able to consider alternative opinions.
  • Recognise your own biases, assumptions and prejudices.
  • Be objective when evaluating information.
  • Don’t believe everything you read. Trust your own thoughts and ideas.

Reading critically will allow you to better understand and engage with your course content and help you make sense of more difficult texts.

Try the following:

  • Do not necessarily accept what you read.
  • Think about the author’s purpose for writing the source. Do they display bias or put forward a particular point of view?
  • Distinguish fact from opinion.
  • Identify the key arguments the author makes.
  • Reinforce your reading. Make notes, explain the reading to others and discuss it in a study group.

Ask questions:

  • What are the key themes or ideas in the source? Think about how these might be applied in practice. Is the author’s thinking sound? Nice in theory may not mean nice in practice.
  • How do the facts, images and examples the author has chosen strengthen or weaken their argument? Is another conclusion possible?
  • How much do you agree or disagree with the author?
  • How does this compare to other material you have read on the same topic?
  • What questions did the author leave you with?

Writing at university requires more than regurgitation of facts and figures. Your written assignments need to present logical well-thought-out arguments, backed up by evidence, as well as your own thoughts and opinions.

A common trap you can fall into is writing descriptively. Descriptive writing presents the history, background or facts about a situation but no critical analysis. While descriptive writing can provide context and set the scene at the beginning of your essay or assignment, relying solely on descriptive writing will most likely lose you marks.

  • Ensure your essay or assignment has an argument or a series of arguments running through it. This mainly applies to essay type assignments but can be relevant for other types of assignments too.
  • Remember that you are trying to convince your reader or the person marking your assignment so you must make a good case.
  • Provide a logical and cohesive structure to your argument.
  • Use multiple sources of evidence to support your argument and make sure you clearly explain why this evidence is important to your argument.
  • Evaluate the evidence you provide for its strengths and limitations and compare it to other evidence you are using.
  • Draw clear conclusions based on your evidence.
  • Include your own interpretation or judgement. This is an essential part of writing critically.
  • Be cautious when you are commenting on evidence or challenging particular authors. For example, say “This may suggest …” rather than “This proves …” This leaves room for debate and alternative perspectives or findings.

See Descriptive vs Critical writing examples

For more detailed information and tips, visit the Critical Thinking module in write@uni.


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