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Critical thinking

What is critical thinking?

The word "critical" can mean different things in different contexts. For example, it can refer to the importance of something, or can also mean pointing out the negative aspects of something, ie to criticise something.

However, critical thinking at university does not mean looking only for the most important aspects of a topic or just criticising ideas. It is also about not accepting what you read or hear at face value, but always questioning the information, ideas and arguments you find in your studies.

Critical thinking is a key skill that should be applied to all aspects of your studies. As a university student, you need to be able to think critically about the resources and information you use in your work. You need to ask the right questions when reading the work of others; your writing needs to show you have the ability to weigh up different arguments and perspectives and use evidence to help you form your own opinions, arguments, theories and ideas. Critical thinking is about questioning and learning with an open mind.

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Critical thinking should help you to:

  • interpret evidence, data, arguments, etc. and be able to identify the significance to your assignment question
  • develop well-reasoned arguments of your own for your assignments
  • use and draw on evidence to justify your arguments and ideas
  • synthesise your thoughts and the thoughts of differing authors/researchers/theorists.

Related resources

If you are new to critical thinking at university, sign up for our short online course at FutureLearn: Critical thinking at university: an introduction

If you are a final year student, you can find out more about being critical in your dissertation or final year research project from our resource The Final Chapter.