Critical Thinking For Students

 Students need to be adept at Critical Thinking to crack entrance exams such as GRE, GMAT, CAT. These skills are also essential for a good performance in Group Discussions and Personal Interviews. They will also be able to make more considered and better decisions in their career choices and all aspects of life.

  Where does critical thinking apply in a students life

- Competitive exams
- Personal interviews
- Group discussions
- Essay writing, and any written work
- Difficult decision making
  ○ Deciding on future courses of action - studies, employment  

Critical Thinking for College Students

Critical Thinking can be taught and learnt very early in a students life. In the early years, It helps students in understanding their subjects better, and also fuel their curiosity to understand the world around them. However in the early years, few students get to make their own choices, or have to take decisions that will impact the rest of their lives. They are under their parents tutelage and guidance.

Once students are in college, they take responsibility for their own lives, and make most of the decisions on their own. Decision making involves thinking, and they think through the options with the thinking faculties and processes they are equipped with at that point of time.

Decisions taken in college have far reaching consequences in the lives of students. A career choice at this stage is something they have to live with for the rest of their lives. They are confronted with several academic, career and life decisions all of a sudden at College. Often this is the first time in the life of the student that they are not living with their parents, or under the constant supervision of the parents irrespective of whether they stay at home or out of it. This is also the place that practically determines the course of their life.

Several Entrance exams specifically test the Critical Thinking skills of students. Exams such as GRE and GMAT have critical reasoning sections. The SOP's, Written Analysis and Essay writing called for in various tests are really tests of Critical Thinking. In personal interviews and Group Discussions, the Interviewers are looking out for the display of Critical Thinking, with proficiency in the language being incidental.

Group Discussions, Personal Interviews and Critical Thinking

In a group discussion, the group is given a topic to discuss. These topics generally allow multiple viewpoints. A typical Group Discussion topic will be like these:  (1)  'Should a retirement age be enforced on Politicians', or (2) 'Politicians accused of Crimes should not be allowed to contest elections' or (3) Death penalty must be abolished (4) Ends justify the means . Topics like these will find proponents for and against the proposition in the topic.

Good performance in a Group discussion is the ability to support the position taken with sound reasoning, and making strong valid arguments. That means not making unsupportable claims, logically flawed arguments or depending on rhetoric to support the position. It is sound and logical reasoning that is persuasive. Of course while this may be instinctive to a handful, for many this is a very tough proposition. What the student needs is an education in Critical Thinking. However few students (if any in India) are educated in the vocabulary or knowledge of Critical Thinking. As a result, they are not trained to recognize good arguments , or spot  flawed and poor arguments.

In a personal interview, the interviewer may have several questions related to the candidates academic and extra curricular activities.  This is normally a reality check to see if there are any potential problems in the statements made in the Resume. They may of course probe the depth of knowledge in specific areas.

After the basic check, most interviewers will typically steer the conversation to a controversial topic. This is a critical phase of the interview as the reasoning ability of the candidate is tested here. And a trained Critical Thinker would be able to handle these interviews much better, than someone who is just depending on native intelligence.

Your Writing is only as good as your thinking is

A student is required to write several papers, thesis and essays during the course of their study. Excepting for quantitative subjects, all other subjects call for Critical Thinking either about the subject matter or general knowledge or life situations.

Any written work is the result of thinking. The student puts down on paper their thoughts on the questions asked, or views on a subject. There are many published works on writing. However closer examination will reveal that these books cover more on the subject of thinking, than the rules of writing. But the coverage on thinking is sparse, and the kind of thinking advocated here does not start with fundamentals, and neither is the thinking learnt here universal in its application. The books of course cannot be blamed for the limited coverage of the subject since their objective is to teach how to write.

All writing is about a topic, a case study or an exchange of ideas. Before the student puts down anything to paper (computer) he needs to have thought about what he is going to say. Maybe his views on the topic and the reasons for those views, or the recommended solution to a problem in the case study, and reasoning for why they believe the solution is appropriate to solve the problem.

Without knowledge of reasoning, our personal biases and a Critical Thinking framework to ensure a thorough analysis of the problem or situation, the student will invariably come up with a sub-optimal piece of writing by his own standards. A students who has learnt the fundamentals of Critical Thinking and applies it will produce a much better reasoned and presented piece of writing, than if he wasn't trained in Critical Thinking.  You cannot treat writing and thinking as two separate skills. Thinking precedes writing, and the quality of thinking determine the quality of writing and presentation. Of course, language skills are largely assumed to be good, and have no bearing on the quality of reasoning in presented in the written work. The only exceptions where language skills also become very important is when one is writing fiction, poetry or speeches, and rhetoric becomes important.

A Critical Thinker makes good and persuasive arguments by design.


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