Skip to Main Content

Critical thinking

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a key component of most assessments at university. The aim of critical thinking is to question what we know about a topic or issue and how we know what we know. It is not about dismissing or finding fault with arguments but about examining the evidence in new ways and thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence and how it supports the argument.

Getting started

You can practice critical thinking in class discussions, with your readings and in your assessments by:

  • Asking questions about the evidence used in the topics you are studying
  • Looking for and identifying any underlying theories or assumptions
  • Considering different or even opposing ideas about the topics you are studying
  • Thinking about what you learn and how that challenges existing ideas about the topic
  • Examining where different ideas originated from and how they developed over time

Critical thinking for class discussions

At university, you are expected to engage with the ideas of your lecturers, tutors, and fellow students. To prepare for class discussions, ask yourself some questions about the week’s topic:

  • What key themes emerged from the lecture?
  • Which aspects of the topic will be focused on in class?
  • Has the lecturer provided any prompt questions for the readings or class discussions?
  • What do other students think about the topic?
  • Do you agree with others’ views on the topic? (Why/why not?)
  • Is there anything you are still unsure of? What questions can you ask during class to clarify this?

Critical thinking for reading

You can practise your critical thinking skills by questioning what you read. To read critically, you need to actively engage with your sources by evaluating their arguments and analysing the evidence they present in support of these arguments. For more information on how to read actively and critically, visit the Reading page.

Critical thinking for assessments

Assessments are designed to help you demonstrate your ability to think critically about a topic. You can use the following questions to guide your critical thinking:

  1. Understand your topic or question
  2. Analyse and evaluate your sources
    • Are your sources scholarly and relevant to the assessment?
    • What argument is each source making?
    • Are the arguments well-supported by evidence?
    • Which arguments do you find convincing and why?
    • How do the different sources relate to each other? (i.e. consider points of agreement and disagreement)
    • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each source?
  3. Formulate an argument
    • Based on your analysis, what conclusions can you draw about the topic?
    • What evidence can you use to support your argument?
    • How can you rebut the evidence that detracts from your argument?
    • How does your argument about this topic relate to the broader context of your discipline?

Critical thinking example

Consider the following essay question: Is educational inequality increasing in Australia? Discuss.

Here are some questions you could use to help you think critically about this topic:

  • What is known about educational inequality in Australia? Have ideas about educational inequality changed over time?
  • How is ‘educational inequality’ defined? Are there competing definitions?
  • Are there any theories that explain why educational inequality exists?
  • How is educational inequality measured? Are there different ways to measure it? How does the way we measure educational inequality influence the conclusions we draw?
  • What is the evidence for educational inequality a) increasing, b) decreasing, or c) staying the same?
  • Which pieces of evidence do you find the most convincing and why? Which pieces of evidence do you find least convincing and why?
  • Based on the evidence, do you think educational inequality is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same?

Pathfinder link

Still have questions? Do you want to talk to an expert? Peer Learning Advisors or Academic Skills and Language Advisors are available.