Steps to Critical Thinking and Why It’s Important

Posted by Pat Delorean

steps to critical thinking

Critical thinking is based on the idea that you can solve a problem or apply a solution through methodical and deep analysis of a subject. It incorporates broad study of a topic, comparison, application and synthesis of that which has been learned.

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable fruits of a college education. The purpose of most college introductory courses is to provide students with a solid knowledge base so that they may begin the process of critical analysis. Most advanced courses have the expectation that a student will be able to apply critical thinking to their studies and nearly all masters and doctorate programs hinge on the sharpening and mastery of the student’s critical thinking ability.

Critical thinking is a key skill for some of the most highly paid careers- investment banking, business management, engineering programs and information technology among others.

So, what are the steps of critical thinking? 

Conceptualizing – In order to be able to answer a question or solve a problem, you must first understand it. What is the context of the issue? What factors might or might not affect its outcome?

Comprehending – The next step involves some deeper analysis where the questions asked in the first step are researched to come up with strategies on things like: what methods should be used to solve the problem, what resources are needed to execute the experiment or fully explore the question, what are the variables that exist and to what extent can they be changed or manipulated?

Applying – At this point, you’re ready to connect a) the problem you’re trying to solve with b) the resources you have to solve it, by elaborating a plan. You will likely have more than one idea on how to solve the problem, so each possibility should be outlined and described in order to eventually be able to choose the best idea.

Analyzing – Now it’s time to look at how you want to solve the problem. What is the most important aspect in solving the problem? For example, is it more important that the solution be economical or fast? Can the solution be temporary or does it need to solve something for the long term? And what benefits does each possible solution offer? What weaknesses?

Synthesizing – Now you’re ready to determine the best solution to the problem. There are many other factors that could weigh in on your decision about which plan to choose, and your ability to set priorities in the previous step will be key to eliminating solutions that don’t reflect the priority. In this step, you should be able to make a choice as to which solution is the best one.

Acting – Here is where you will outline the steps that need to be taken in order to execute the plan and solve the problem according to the priorities you set and the best solution you chose.

Why Should College Students Develop Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Improve your college experience – The development of critical thinking skills are meant to prepare students to do more in-depth academic work. By learning them, you will get much more out of your college experience.
  • Important for careers – There are many careers that use critical thinking skills: being a chef, being a business owner, working in the financial sector, working in politics, engineering or information technology. Your ability to apply critical thinking to solve tough problems will help you advance in these and many other careers.
  • A life skill – Critical thinking won’t just help you in your career. It can help you in your personal life as well. From determining how to budget your income to solving a problem with a friend or a partner to choosing who to vote for in a political election, critical thinking can help enhance your ability to act in a number of real life situations.

Use these steps to apply critical thinking in academic, professional and personal situations.