Attributes of a Critical Thinker and Their Application in University Learning

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Without developing your critical thinking self, your learning at university will not be fully successful. In this essay, I will define what critical thinking is and what it involves by defining and discussing the many attributes. Lastly I will discuss why this is so fundamentally important to successful learning at university.

“The definition of critical thinking…. is ‘reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on what to believe or do” (Marshall and Rowland 2006)

The purpose of critical thinking is to achieve understanding, evaluate different viewpoints, and to find solutions to problems. While critical thinking is something we engage in our daily life, the word 'critical' is commonly thought to have a quite negative meaning. At university 'critical' has a much broader meaning and being critical involves making a balanced assessment and looking at things from different perspectives. Critical thinking is central to university culture, it thrives on students and scholars proposing ideas and defending them through debate and argument.

The critical thinker considers conflicting points of view before coming to a conclusion. Strong critical thinkers realize the world is uncertain and for many problems there is not necessarily a clear solution. They are also aware of the limits of their own knowledge and understanding, and are willing to allow their ideas and assumptions to be put to the test.

There are many attributes that critical thinkers must possess. Reflection, debate and open mindedness are among the more important critical thinking skills.


Reflection is an integral skill to critical thinks, it encourages the thinker to review lessons learned and integrate those lessons into their existing knowledge and belief systems or worldview. Reflective thinking is most important in prompting learning during complex problem-solving situations because it provides students with an opportunity to step back and think about how they actually solve problems and how a particular set of problem solving strategies is appropriated for achieving their goal.


The ability to debate or argue is also an integral skill to possess during university studies. While studying online or via correspondence the student is limited in the opportunity to debate or argue their ideas or point of view with their peers.

Without the opportunity to debate your thesis, you will deny yourself the input of other perspectives you may not have considered or the input of other sources of information that may influence your decision-making. Therefore the development of the ability to debate ones own thesis is an integral skill in the learning process.

Open mindedness:

Open mindedness is the ability to consider new information, ideas and concepts. If you are not open minded you are not susceptible to influence or persuasion from your current views and knowledge. Open mindedness is a necessary skill if you are to take advantage of other leaning tools like reflection or debate.


To be decisive is to consider relevant information and determine your own conclusion. Unlike other attributes, which are involved in the process, in critical thinking making a decision results in an outcome.


Making assumptions is the act of taking something to be true for the sake of an argument, without this skill a debate may never end. However, as a result of the critical thinking process your view of previous assumptions may be altered.


Being rational is the ability to think critically and having sound judgement. Making judgments involves distinguishing between fact and opinion or evaluating the validity of information sources or the validity of theories and their application. These judgments need to be well grounded in research and all possible viewpoints need to be taken in to consideration.


Emotion is mental feeling as distinguished from...
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