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Critical Thinking - Podcast episode

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking and critical analysis are terms that are usually seen in the marking criteria and marker feedback of an assignment. These skills require you to ask questions of the world around you, and come to a reasoned decision. In academic terms these skills are all about developing the ability to find information, know how to read and understand it (and its context), think about its deeper meaning, evaluate and analyse it, and apply it to your academic work.

Often students see the critical skills as difficult new skills to learn. However, in truth you have actually been developing and using your critical thinking skills throughout your life. Whenever you have made a reasoned decision, you will have had to look at information and reached a conclusion. All university students will have had to use the critical skills when deciding if they want to study at university, what course they want to study and what university they want to study at. At university you need to apply your critical thinking skills to your academic work.

In the podcast located in the resources section, I discussed how you already have critical thinking skills with David Richardson. I then interviewed Academic Librarian Sally Forrest and Derby English Language Centre Lecturer Alex Hudson, to suggest ways that you can apply your pre-existing critical thinking skills to university assessments through research and academic writing. 

When applying critical thinking to secondary research Sally Forrest identified two methods that you can use. The first is to apply the CRAAP Test. This stands for:

  • Currency - Ask how current is the research? Does it matter for your assignment?
  • Relevance - How relevant it is to your work, is it in the right geographical and subject areas? 
  • Authority - Who wrote the work, are they an authority in the area? If not can they be backed up by others?
  • Accuracy - How accurate is the work? Is it supported by references? Is the methodology logical and supported by others?
  • Purpose - Why has the source been created? Is there an agenda? What impact does this have on the reliability of the source?

The second test that Sally identified is the 6 critical questions. These are asking, Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. The key for both methods is to learn to question what you are reading and evaluate whether that source is reliable. 

When applying critical thinking to academic writing, you can do this by using a few methods. The first is to use a paragraph structure that pushes you to be critical. See our paragraph structure guide for an example structure. The second method is to question "so what?" as you write to understand the significance of what you have said. Critical thinking involves coming to a conclusion. For example, if you have spotted that the source you are using is not backed up by others in the field what does that mean? Write about the significance of your critical thinking to your answer in your assignment.