Critical Thinking & Questioning

Effective critical thinking takes practice and is a necessary skill for success. Critical thinking has many applications at college, including:

  • reading a section of a textbook closely.
  • writing a thoughtful essay.
  • analyzing multiple-choice questions.

The ability to connect previous learning to new learning is closely tied to critical thinking. When examining a topic in-depth, try to integrate what you are studying with previously learned information to create new understandings. For instance, if you are asked to write an essay that compares and contrasts the characteristics of children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) to children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), begin by reading and thinking critically about FAS and ADD. Once you understand the characteristics of each, combine your prior knowledge with the newly acquired information to create a new understanding of the topic. Adults rarely learn something new completely from scratch. They usually have some prior knowledge from their work, other courses or everyday life. By integrating previous experience with new information, your learning becomes more personally meaningful. This will positively impact your grades.

For more about critical thinking, check out this short, free course on problem solving from MIT.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, a famous theory explaining critical thinking, is an excellent model for developing strong questioning skills. It divides the process of learning into six stages: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. In the first three stages, critical thinking skills are less essential as you are simply recalling and explaining information. Critical thinking becomes more important in the higher stages of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

To illustrate these stages, try this activity from the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood. Then consider how Bloom's stages have been applied. Notice that the levels of questioning start at the simple level and become more complex.

Now study the following application of Bloom's Taxonomy as applied to the topic of psychological disorders from a psychology course. By developing questions about the topic that address various levels of learning, you increase the depth of your knowledge. Be sure to keep Bloom's Taxonomy in mind when you create questions about your course content.