Study skills and language resources
How to improve your critical thinking and evaluation skills.
Do you need to write an assignment, and, in the instructions, does it ask you to use critical evaluation, critical analysis or critical thinking?
At high school, when we write an essay or assignment, we are summarising information that we have learnt. It shows the teacher that we've been listening!
However, at university, this is very different. We are asked to use 'critical thinking' and 'critical evaluation'. This means that we must think about the information we're learning or reading. We decide if we agree or disagree with it (or partially agree). We look for evidence to prove that it's true. We don't just accept it because it's in a book or a journal article. We ask why.
Critical thinking is work...but it's valuable work. Stop and think. That's much more interesting, isn't it? We have the opportunity to engage with the subject we're studying and to consider (and ask questions about) it. We make our own judgement on it, using what we are learning and reading to help us to understand our subject better. We take control of our writing and express our arguments and ideas.
How to use critical thinking when writing an assignment
First of all, don't panic! You are probably already using critical thinking in your life very successfully.
Think about this situation: If I told you that social media said tomatoes can make you more intelligent, would you immediately buy lots of tomatoes? If not, why not?
If you are thinking 'because there's no evidence to support what you're saying', 'because (in my experience) that seems strange or unlikely', 'because you're not a doctor or a scientist' or 'because social media is not a sufficiently reliable source' … then you are using critical thinking!
- Start with this clear and extremely helpful guide from the Hull University Skills Team (SkillsTeamHullUni, 2017): Critical Writing (YouTube).
- Now look at the University of Hull's webpage: What is critical writing? (University of Hull, 2021).
- The EAP Foundation website offers lots of helpful information on writing critically.
- The University of Leeds has some very informative webpages on critical thinking and writing.
- Here's a helpful video from the University of Sunderland (2018): A Short guide to critical thinking.
- Finally, for a list of critical thinking questions to ask, and some more useful resources, scroll down York St John's Study Development's Study Success page to the 'Critical thinking and writing' section - enjoy!