What on Earth Is Critical Thinking and How to Know You Do Have It?

Question Mark with Funny Face

Glad you are asking this question! It means that you are on the right way to understanding what it really is. And that you are a lucky holder of this skill!

No, you don’t have to think that it is a rare gift only geniuses are born with. Critical thinking is included by default into the package of standard settings of any human brain. What you need to do is to find this function, put a tick in front of it and take a few additional steps to make it work swimmingly. Of course, you shouldn’t forget that by selecting such option you agree to all terms and conditions of its use.

So, let’s make out how critical thinking can help you and how to turn it into your personal superpower. By the way, it is a great skill to mention in your CV or admissions essay, no matter for what kind of job, or any other undertaking, you are applying.

We are going to start with these two simple questions:

  • How do real birds learn to fly in nature?
  • How would you weigh a real adult giraffe?

Let’s Skip the Theory and Move to Practice!

No, no, don’t switch to Google search bar at once if it seems to you that you don’t know the right answer. But, probably, you are asking your suspicious self at the moment where the trick is or why on earth you should answer to these two questions.

Indeed, they look so random, as if they were taken from different units of a biology textbook for secondary school students. Still, if you haven’t just rushed to Google’s help but started musing over the common sense and purpose of the trick, you are one step closer to becoming a really good critical thinker.


Where the Shoe Pinches

Initially, the above-mentioned questions were really intended for school students. In 1981 Selma Wasserman, who is nowadays a professor emerita in Education from the Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, the US, published an article with quite a weird title: The Gifted Can’t Weigh That Giraffe.

She told about her teaching experience with pupils of one of South Californian schools. She had to give two lessons: one lesson for the group of “gifted” children aged 10 to 12; the other one for the group of “low achievers”.

The first question about birds was asked in the gifted group. But Selma couldn’t even imagine that anxiety it caused among the children. The problem was that they didn’t know the RIGHT answer! Because they hadn’t studied birds yet. But they didn’t even try to make an effort and think for a while, basing on their knowledge or just pure imagination, which is actually quite peculiar to children.

What about the group of low achievers then? Those pupils were asked how they could weigh a giraffe. Selma was amazed to find out that the children immediately started generating ideas! Some of them were more reasonable from a physical point of view, some of them were much naiver and just funny. But the point was that the pupils weren’t scared by the non-standard task. They tried to apply their inventiveness and creativity, instead of waiting for one right answer.

So, What Are the Conclusions?

You can see that there was actually no trick in the experiment. Still, you are right to think that it was aimed at revealing pupils’ ability to deal with the issues which weren’t supposed to have certain right solutions. Here is what we can determine:

  • The fact that common A-students believe they are expected to provide one particular answer or solution deprives them of the possibility to employ and develop their thinking flexibility, critical thinking and creativity. As a result, they can’t act productively in non-typical circumstances, which require them not to know the way out, but to find it themselves.
  • On the contrary, students who are forced to solve various everyday problems outside the walls of their schools or colleges, whether these are some job tasks or family issues, tend to be more intellectually flexible and hence more creative. They may not be that good at giving standard academic answers to standard academic questions. But when they face something out of the school or college world, they can find the way to deal with it.
  • To sum up, it is important to understand how the information you get from different sources should be applied in real practice, which mostly doesn’t care what we know but makes us show what we can do with our knowledge.

Creative Mind

The True Essence of Your Critical Thinking

There is no need to cite its dictionary definitions here. Some of them are so serious that they even take a few 6-line paragraphs in different scientific articles you can find all around the web.

Selma Wasserman’s experiment is very demonstrative, so we are going to limit with what we can learn from it. Also, it would be logical to connect the listed conclusions with the main principles of Bloom’s taxonomy of Learning Domains, developed by the American psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom in 1965.

In a nutshell, Bloom’s taxonomy classifies, defines and distinguishes different educational objectives, according to how complex and specific they are in the process of learning. There are 6 levels. Everything starts from remembering and understanding the information you receive. Then it is applied, analyzed and evaluated. The final and highest stage of this all is creation of something absolutely new, that is of a new source of information, literally.

The pattern of what we know as critical thinking unites all these six levels and is based on them. It means that the general quality of your knowledge is determined not only by your ability to apply it in a given, teacher-created situation.

If at a certain stage you realize that you do remember, understand and can use the knowledge you have, you are ready to proceed with analyzing and evaluating it. In the end you will be able to make on-the-spot decisions and come up with effective solutions for real-life issues. That is to create your own right answer. Isn’t it great?

So, in general, thinking critically means considering not the question or problem as it is given, but also the factors which cause it, the facets which it concerns and even the probable outcomes. In its turn, such consideration is based on your ability to search for the information you need, either in your memory or in Google, process it and generate your solution.


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