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What are critical thinking skills and why do you need them?

Did you know that the ability to use different sources, identify and analyse important information and come to your own conclusions is a fundamental skill at university and in life? We show you why critical thinking skills are so useful.

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As part of our academic writing series, we look at critical thinking skills. These skills are hugely important at university but also in your future career. What exactly are critical thinking skills, and how can they be useful to you throughout your life?


What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking skills definition

Critical thinking is the ability to judge the information and evidence you have discovered in your research and form your own opinion on a given topic. You should then be able to present your judgement and assessment. It’s important to emphasize that it isn’t simply describing what you’ve read or heard. Critical thinking is:


  • Identifying relevant information and data.
  • Synthesising– this is putting together ideas, data and information from different sources and creating something new.
  • Analysing – looking at the evidence and information at a deeper level.
  • Evaluating – looking at the strengths and weaknesses of information. You need to ask yourself: 
    • Is the information accurate? 
    • Who produced the information? 
    • Are they knowledgeable and an authority on the subject? 
  • Concluding and presenting your arguments effectively.


Why are critical thinking skills important? 


Having these skills and using them at university is a top priority in both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. All written assignments, group presentations, seminars and tutorials require students to use these vital skills. 


Those international students who come from countries and cultures where evaluating an experts’ opinion are not culturally acceptable may find developing this skill a little difficult at the start. However, with time and practice, this becomes easier. 


Another way of improving your critical thinking skills is by getting English language help at university. You can develop your English and other academic skills through a university’s pre-sessional courses or pathway programmes. In addition, there may be other courses/services the university has to offer that can help. 


However, it isn’t just at university that this skill is needed. Having critical thinking skills is important to employers. They're looking for graduates with this ability and other skills such as problem-solving, decision-making and resilience.


Laweducation, research, medicine and finance are all areas that require employees to have critical thinking skills, but it is not limited to these industries. All professions in all industries are looking for this core soft skill in their employees. 


There's an even better reason to develop your critical thinking skills. Research has shown that critical thinkers are happier people. Win-win. Don't forget to look out for the other articles on using citation and plagiarism in our academic writing series. 


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