Are You a Critical Thinker?

Tom Shipka

Thinking is like playing tennis, driving a car, or dieting. It can be done well or badly. In modern education jargon, good thinkers are called critical thinkers. Critical thinkers have a mix of attitudes, skills, and habits that set them apart from sloppy thinkers. Are you a critical thinker? Test yourself by answering these questions.

  1. Are you a successful problem-solver?
  2. When you face a problem or mystery, do you always seek the simplest adequate solution or explanation instead of a needlessly complex one?
  3. Before you make a decision, do you first gather as many relevant facts as time permits?
  4. Do you embrace a belief because it is supported by compelling evidence and sound arguments and not merely because it is popular or consoling?
  5. Can you explain and defend your beliefs and practices capably?
  6. Are your beliefs coherent so that some of them don't contradict others?
  7. Do you use language with precision and clarity?
  8. Are you a good listener?
  9. Do you strive to be objective and even-handed in your evaluation of people, products, services, and organizations?
  10. Are you aware that your perceptions can be distorted by your beliefs, expectations, biases, and state of mind?
  11. Are you aware that your memory is selective and constructive and seldom provides a literal report of the past?
  12. Are you willing to hear or read an elaboration or defense of a position that strikes you initially as weird, foolish, far-fetched, or immoral?
  13. Do you have the courage to reevaluate a long-cherished belief and to acknowledge that it may be mistaken?
  14. Do you successfully detect bias, special pleading, code words, propaganda, and exaggeration in what you hear or read?
  15. Do you scrupulously avoid lying, exaggerating, and treating speculation, gossip, or rumor as fact, in order to influence or persuade others?
  16. Are you aware that many TV programs, films, and publications deviate from the historical record and contradict well-established scientific laws and theories?
  17. Do you regularly read books, newspapers, magazines, and other publications?
  18. Do you balance your reading to expose yourself to a variety of views and perspectives?
  19. Do you participate regularly in serious, civil conversations about significant issues in the news?
  20. Do you detect common fallacies in reasoning such as stereotyping, hasty generalization, ad hominem, the slippery slope, and others? And finally,
  21. Do you strive to avoid the use of such fallacies in your own reasoning?

You have now completed the self-evaluation stage of the critical thinking test. Hopefully you answered "yes" to every question. To complete the critical thinking test, you need to move to peer evaluation. Ask a person who knows you well and whom you consider to be a critical thinker to evaluate you using these same questions. Then, compare the two sets of answers. If there is a discrepancy between your answer and your peer evaluator's answer to a particular question, ask your peer evaluator for an explanation. Oops! I forgot one important question in the critical thinking test: "Do you welcome and act upon constructive criticism?"

© 2012 Tom Shipka