Thinking Critically

At uni, nailing critical thinking is a game-changer. 

Thinking critically means diving deep into your studies and tackling tricky problems by:

Critical thinking will help you draw smart conclusions and avoid common pitfalls when dealing with new information.

It will act as your compass, guiding you through success at uni and whatever comes next.

While the core principles of critical thinking remain the same, how you apply critical thinking can look different in each discipline. 

Remember, thinking critically starts with keeping an open mind.

Video talking about critical thinking and why it is important at university
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Sharpening your critical thinking skills is fundamental to your success at university.

As you delve deeper into your studies and tackle more complex problems, you’ll learn to carefully assess different viewpoints, interrogate assumptions, and build strong arguments with solid evidence.

Critical thinking starts with approaching new and challenging problems with an open mind.

It will help you reach well-reasoned conclusion and avoid common pitfalls when assessing new information.

For example, imagine you find an academic study claiming that regular exercise is good for your heart health.

Before accepting the study’s claims, you carefully examine its methodology, check if any factors might have affected the results, and search for other reliable studies supporting the findings.

You consider bias, how many people were sampled in the study, if there was a comparison group, and how the data was analysed.

By questioning, examining, and evaluating all the evidence, you have a well-thought-out position on whether exercise helps your heart.

Simply accepting the findings of the first study you read could lead to inaccurate or misleading conclusions.

Honing your critical thinking skills is not only important for university but will set you up for the workplace as well.

While critical thinking is essential in all fields of study and even daily life, its application and focus varies based on the needs of each discipline.

For example, maths students dissect problems, scrutinise underlying assumptions, identify patterns and evaluate the validity of their solutions to establish proofs.

Meanwhile, in law, students analyse and apply statues, legal principles, and case precedents, develop legal arguments and anticipate counterarguments.

Both disciplines use critical thinking for evaluating logical reasoning, interpreting core principles and solving complex problems.

Good luck, and remember, your critical thinking skills will support you to navigate the academic world and beyond!

Video on thinking critically for STEM
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Ethan – Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Master of Biomedical Engineering

So a definition of critical thinking is being able to analyse the evidence you have at hand, and then from that analysis of the evidence, be able to draw out upon a judgment or a choice. For Engineering, critical thinking is what I just said, right? Being able to analyse evidence and draw out a solution or a justification from it. But I think the biggest difference or what sets it out from other faculties such as business or for example, math, is that it’s much more driven by logic. So more often than not, yes, there might be a lot of evidence, but they will always often point towards a single or a similar solution. So there might not always be more than one solution, but there can be a lot different reasons why that solution is correct. So a day to day experience with critical thinking for me as an Engineering student is, for example, I would do a project or something and I find that I do all the steps but one thing is wrong. Right. So in order to understand and see what’s wrong, I have to critically think about it and definitely I have to review all my sources, gather evidence, analyse it, see which evidence is or what step might have gone wrong. And once I’ve identified it, I must test to see what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and then from that, draw a solution from it. So there’s a very logical, very sequential sequence to it. So especially at a university level, critical thinking is so important because the type of content and material that is delivered to you during class is typically not the most digestible in its base form. And definitely you’re going to critically think and see which parts is the most important and then be able to draw out the most important bits from it to properly further your understanding, right? And being able to analyse why you’re learning it and how it’s important to your learning definitely also brings about a lot of motivation in actually learning about your content. So how critical thinking translates to careers or opportunities beyond university is definitely very apparent. So being able to understand your workplace or maybe the amount of work that is required for you to do and being able to analyse the most important bits allows you to properly prioritise the task and basically be able to do your task very well. So critical thinking is a very multifaceted process and it isn’t something that’s typically learnt overnight. So the best way to improve the critical thinking is following the five P’s. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. And being able to properly put your critical thinking skills in practice and have the opportunity to use them really helps you improve. 


Daphne – Bachelor of Psychology (Honours)

So in Psychology, critical thinking requires a lot of evaluating different research papers. So when researchers conduct their research and they bring out empirical evidence it’s all about looking at that evidence and saying, “Is this reliable? Are the methods that are used valid?” So that requires a lot of what Psychology likes to call healthy skepticism. So having a healthy amount of skepticism is looking at things through a very objective lens and saying, “This is like a great study,” “but are there ways to improve it?” “Are there any alternative explanation for these results” “that could better explain the findings of this study?” In my degree, Psychology, critical thinking just means that whenever I look at literature, so for an assignment where II need to review different parts of literature looking to see if there are any gaps in the literature. So a gap in the literature is just something that maybe the researchers hadn’t thought about and could be an avenue for further research. In Psychology and especially when you’re writing for different assignments, that’s really important because that’s the foundation of where new ideas are generated. So in terms of my degree, that’s kind of where I use critical thinking the most. In high school, I feel like I didn’t engage in a lot of critical thinking if I’m going to be honest, because even though I had to write like essays and come up with my arguments and things like that, the calibre feels a lot smaller, and the stakes feel a lot smaller in high school then at university, because at university you might be dealing with like real life papers or you know, you might be working with actual data sets from researchers. So the stakes do feel a lot higher and I do feel like I have to sort of up my critical thinking skills. And that just means, you know, asking a lot more questions, maybe going to, you know, people who like my academics or my tutors for extra help. Critical thinking is significant to university level study because when you eventually go into the workforce, you’re going to be doing with maybe a lot of different people and a lot of different problems that might be completely novel to you in terms of high school or university. So when you approach these new and challenging problems, that’s when critical thinking works best because it allows you to take these ideas you’ve learnt during your study and actually apply them to real life scenarios where you can actually, you know, make a difference in the world or, you know, help a lot of people so that’s why I think it’s really important to develop those critical thinking skills in university. So you’re prepared to approach any new challenges like that later in life. One tip I have for incoming students to develop their own critical thinking skills is not just to apply it in a study and university context, try to apply it through your daily life as well. So, for example, even like going on social media or reading news articles like that. Looking at things with a more objective lens and trying not to take everything at face value. I know in social media nowadays there’s a lot of misinformation and things like that.


Audrey – Bachelor of Science (Pathology)

So my understanding of critical thinking as a Science student, is mainly using different processes to formulate a different experiment or something you want to learn about. So, it’s kind of like being creative, analytical, being wise, using common sense as well, especially when you’re in the lab and just overall, using these three to create a hypothesis about something, or just creating an experiment about something as a whole and just going through the different kind of processes of finding out the solution or the answer to that thing that you want to learn about. It’s very, very important to use critical thinking especially when you’re trying to you find something for a hypothesis. So, if you’re trying to explore what something is or how something changes over time because of something, you should really use critical thinking to think about the different kind of aspects of that, or the different factors like, “Okay, why is this turning this way?” “What’s happening to it?” When I was in high school, there wasn’t really a big emphasis on using critical thinking. It was mainly just get the assignment done and try to, try to ask as many questions, but you don’t really know what questions to ask. And I feel like that’s definitely changed in uni when you’re doing like a scientific report about something, or when you’re doing an experiment trying to prove something, you have to ask all these questions because these are all major factors in whether your experiment turns out successful or if it fails, or if you find something that you weren’t supposed to find or you find something that you weren’t even looking for, and it doesn’t answer what your question was at all. So, I feel like critical thinking, you use it a lot especially in uni when you’re doing an experiment or when you’re trying to find something out. So, like when you’re doing Anatomy or something, you’ll try to figure out why the cells are changing this way and what is happening to the cells. For that reason, you have to ask all these different questions. So, like, “What’s happening to the cell?” “Why is it changing in this way?” “What kind of processes do you think relating to this?” And so, you use all these questions. You have to ask all these questions to yourself and you have to figure out what the answer is. And if the answer is like inflammation or something, you’re like, “Okay, sweet. I found the answer.” But then you have to find out why the inflammation is happening as well. It kind of just helps you dig a bit deeper than, I guess, you would have in high school because in high school the answer probably would have just ended at inflammation. You have to kind of find the extra knowledge behind why this is happening especially if you’re going to go and do something like this in the future, because then you have to ask the deeper questions as well, because you can’t just give like a half answer to someone, especially if you want to go into like, like the medical careers. So you have to tell someone, “You have, like, acute inflammation in something”. But then they’re going to be like “Why do I have that?” And so you have to research a bit more, find out why they have that acute inflammation. So, I feel like critical thinking is really important to use at a university level because you’re trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind something. So, even if you’re not in Science, if you’re doing something like Philosophy, you probably use this a lot more because kind of like the Socratic method of things like that. It’s kind of like you’re thinking deeper into everything around you. And it’s kind of like that for Science as well. You’re thinking deeper into the thing that you’ve just found there. So like the example I used before. I used acute inflammation. So, it’s kind of like you’re figuring out why that acute inflammation is there, why it looks like that as well at a cellular level, at a macroscopic level. It’s kind of just all these different things and you have to use them especially in uni, because you have to find the deeper meaning of everything because you’re going to use this in the future as well. So one tip I have for first years who are coming to learn or to develop their critical thinking skills, I think one tip to use is to just be that annoying kid. Just keep asking why. Why, why, why, why, why, why is this happening? Why is that happening? And then just once you find the answer to those, ask why that’s happening again. So, you found the reason why this is happening, but why is that causing that? So, just keep asking those questions and no matter how much the term annoys you, just keep doing it. And you’ll find the answer to everything that you need for that kind of experiment or for that question.


Eamonn – Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Software)

As an Engineering student, I think critical thinking comes into my degree a lot because it’s all about the idea of engineers are the ones that go and solve problems, right? We’re the ones creating solutions to all of these things. So it’s the constant idea of problem solving. Critical thinking is really, really important to my degree of Engineering, because engineering is all about problem solving. It’s all about being able to go and build solutions. How it’s being applied might differ from discipline to discipline. For me, it’s always been about programming, about knowing what sort of techniques, what sort of patterns I should be doing in some particular context. For high school students, I think it’s important to go and understand that critical thinking isn’t just all about the problem solving, about being academically focused, but it’s more about being able to go and look at some sort of topic and understand how it works and how you can go and actually make it better. So critical thinking, I think, really extends into sort of self-improvement of being able to go and look at yourself, maybe go and look at things and to go understand how you can improve all of them and to just have a fundamental understanding of how everything just kind of clicks together.


Julian – Bachelor of Psychology

So, as a Psychology student, my understanding of critical thinking is more broadly, it’s just thinking about you know, why something occurred or what is the sort of mechanism behind something, I suppose, so a lot of the time in psychology you’re learning about really particular methods, or you really have to clearly explain what someone is doing to, you know, properly make sure that everything’s being done correctly. So I find myself constantly looking through news articles or videos or things like that, and you always hear those articles of scientists found this or scientists found that. And I always find myself looking at it from a perspective of, “Okay but did they sample these people correctly?” “Or did they do this or that correctly?” And it’s it’s a really cool skill set to have where it’s almost subconscious, where I’m just looking through things and really asking lots of questions. “Okay, why did they find that?” “Is there another explanation for this rather than what they gave you?” And I think thinking critically with Psychology is particularly important because it’s such a tricky field of research. Whereas in something like Biology, you can objectively measure you know, someone’s blood pressure or something. But with Psychology, you’re trying to measure people’s thoughts in a scientific way, which is really tricky. So you’re constantly having to ask a lot of very interesting and very creative questions about, “Okay, how am I going to solve this problem?” So, it sort of comes into it in terms of evaluating what other people have said, but also creating your own ideas or you know, adding a new idea to something else that someone suggested. I think the way I developed critical thinking skills throughout my degree is that it just as up in the air as it sounds, it just sort of happens in the sense that I remember coming into university and they constantly talk about critical thinking and you almost come in with this feeling of like, “Okay, I need to learn how to think critically.” And you’ll sort of think of ways of how do I intentionally do this? And that can often be a point of stress or something that’s on people’s minds of how do I develop this skill? But I think the way that university courses teach you naturally eases you into that without you even realising it. You know, an assignment might have you evaluate pieces of research or they might have discussion questions and tutorials about why did this happen or why do you think this happened? And before you know it, you’re just at the end of your first year or your first term, and you’re already using these skills like just like a muscle that you’re training. They teach you in a very natural way, and you’ll just sort of notice yourself building up these skills without even realising it until you know, you’re reading through an article and suddenly you’re thinking about all these different things. So it just it really just happens as you’re going through your degree. 

Thinking critically for STEM

“As a psychology student, my understanding of critical thinking is thinking about why something occurred or what is mechanism behind something” – Julian 

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

Critical thinking for Humanities, Business and Law

“Critical thinking forms a big part of your degree. It’s important in your assessments and exams in having like a viewpoint that you can stand by” – Sweta 

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

What does it look like in practice?

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Sweta – Bachelor of Commerce / Law

Critical thinking does form a big part of your degree. It can be useful in your assignments and your exams in having like a viewpoint that you can stand by. So, for example, you might use it in your essays. So I had this one essay about a public policy reform for Law and I’d never done that, but the purpose of it was to just express what you think about this specific law and you can be creative in what you say, but also be critical by using other authors who have written about it. Being critical is what they look for when they’re marking your assignments. They see that you have your own perspective but you can also incorporate the perspective of others in your writing and in your own perspective to justify what you want to say. As a first year student, I wish I knew that critical thinking was more than just using as many authors as possible in your writing, in your discussions, and just reiterating what they have said about a topic. I wish I knew that it was about finding my own voice and my own thoughts about the topic and just using other authors as a basis for it. So I wish I knew that having my own voice about a topic was more important than just repeating what everyone else has said.


Tahrima – Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics/Law

So with Law, critical thinking is more, okay, so we have this law or we have this problem. How can we apply legal issues? How can we think about this differently? Is there any reform that needs to take place? So those are probably the key stakeholders when I’m looking at a legal question, whereas with Politics, and kind of Philosophy as well. Critical thinking more involves, okay, are there theoretical ideas or ideas presented by others previously that would, I guess, fix this issue here? Or find a solution or support my idea or justify what is happening? I think with Economics though, I think critical thinking is a bit more different because you are thinking about, “Okay how do I approach this issue?” How do I approach the situation?” “And how can I apply economic ideas to the real world?” So in my Law, Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree, I’m doing critical thinking in three different ways. So critical thinking can be incredibly different, and it looks incredibly different depending on which degree you do and which courses you take. I think in regards to critical thinking, it’s super hard to kind of instantly understand what it’s about because like I said, it is incredibly different for which course you’re doing. I think though, what best makes me think critically is by participating in class discussions. So putting my hand up in tutorials, asking any questions that I might have, giving my input. I find that I best walk out of classes and understand the content when I’ve engaged in the discussion. But critical thinking also stems from in-class discussions. So that’s a really great way that I catch myself thinking critically because I’m having to consolidate my own knowledge, adjust it to what we’re learning, and then convey it in a way where I can express my ideas and make it really clear other people. As someone who’s coming to university from high school, you already have the skills to critically think. So don’t think that it’s something that, you know, you need to add to your backpack or like add on because you already have it. You just need to unlock it. Everyone has it because you’re clearly strong enough and believe in yourself enough to come to university as is. Critical thinking, just because it looks so different with the different courses that you do, it’s something that comes with practice. Maybe engaging in content. So doing the readings, paying attention to the lectures kind of thinking about the content outside of class is the best way to engage your critical thinking because it shows that you’re so interested in it or you’re thinking about it to a greater extent than what’s being taught in class, or maybe trying to apply it even. Something that I really liked in my Economics courses was that we were kind of asked to learn about these microeconomic concepts, but then apply it to the real world and I found myself talking about how Taylor Swift tickets reflects demand and supply. Right? So it’s things like that. I’m critically thinking about these economic concepts but I’m applying it to real well situations as well. So that’s probably the best way to engage in critical thinking.


Peter – Bachelor of Economics/Computer Science

And I find that especially for my Economics course, when I’m given a paper or an article and I’m critically analysing it, it’s reflecting upon it for myself. “How can I apply this for myself?” “Do I agree with what’s being said?” “Do I disagree?” “Could it have been said different?” “Is this actually true?” Asking those questions while I’m engaging with content for me is critical thinking. When I was in high school, an example of critical thinking was well, actually in every course I think it comes down to what course you’re doing, but even why doing those courses. In English papers, when you’re being given a specific text to read, it’s how you’re responding to this text. What elements of that text are you responding to? It could be when we’re doing Shakespeare because we all had to do Shakespeare. What are you taking out from the texts that you’re reading? What are you questioning? Are you having any questions to that? Even maths, like there’s so many ways in which we utilise critical thinking in high school. It actually is both intentionally and unintentionally. I think that’s such an incredible skill. The reason critical thinking is reinforced throughout all the degrees is the fact that it’s an incredibly important skill to utilise beyond university. We are trying to train next world leaders, next world entrepreneurs, and to do that, we want these people to be thinking for themselves, able to formulate their own opinions and do so in a way that’s based on research and evidence that they’re able to formulate well. And all these courses, whatever discipline you’re in, even for Computer Science, critical thinking is really importantly with is this code actually going to serve its purpose? Can we make this better? Can we help people better? Asking these questions, thinking critically, and not just taking things at face value is an incredibly important skill. So a time where I was able to develop and hone my critical thinking would have been in one of my Economics courses. Economics is a very fun subject. There’s many opinions and theories that we’re being taught and there was this one course where we were being taught a number of theories and papers we were supposed to respond on, and I found myself developing my critical thinking and not agreeing with this paper. And as a result, in my class, I was sharing why I didn’t, reasons why and justifying that and that was a way in which I was able to hone my critical thinking as I didn’t take something at face value and it enabled me to explore why. And I found myself researching and trying to formulate an opinion to go against not go against, but disagree in a way that felt right with me.


Saoirse – Bachelor of Arts/Law

So as an Arts and Law student, I think that critical thinking is so important I think that critical thinking is so important specifically for my degree, but also how I navigate at university and just out in the real world. I think that critical thinking specifically in my degree has been really important. It’s like the fundamental part of a lot of my exams is sort of getting a piece of information and learning how to maybe analyse it or find problems. And I even use critical thinking when I’m sort of listening in class and I’m looking for those questions. I’m looking for those debates or things to raise. And so that’s where I find it really important academically. Non-academically, I found critical thinking really helpful in sort of arranging my classes or arranging my living space or arranging how I’m going to manage my time at university and just like living independently. It was my first assignment, and I had to critically analyse a piece of writing for my Arts degree. And so I remember first reading it and thinking like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Like, what is this?” “What is critical thinking?” But it really is just about asking questions and really, like, thinking about the deeper meaning of a lot of things. And the kind of solutions or maybe consequences that might arise. And so that is what I did for my essay and seriously, like, every single exam I get for my Arts degree really has like a big part of critical thinking in it. And so having it initially and sort of with trial and error, learning how to critically analyse something and critically think about something has been really helpful. And I know it’s going to follow me throughout my degree. I think I’ve developed my own critical thinking of university by constantly asking those questions about the world around me. Specifically in my degree, I feel like I need to think critically about a lot of things, and it’s really followed into how I look at the news and how I look at discussions that are happening at university. And it just helps me kind of feel a little bit more balanced and have a bit more of an invitation to other perspectives in life because I feel like critical thinking allows me to sort of weigh up all the options and to think about the best solution or the best way to approach any task. Some advice that I would give to incoming students who want to sort of hone in on those critical thinking skills that they’re going to use throughout university is to definitely just start asking yourselves a lot of questions about what’s happening around you. I think that was one of the biggest things that sort of changed the way that I looked at critical thinking, because in itself it’s like a big term where it’s like, what does this mean exactly? But if you think about it in terms of just like asking more questions, thinking about more solutions, thinking about more consequences, or maybe the pros and cons of a lot of things can really help in the way that you critically think about something and the way that you make decisions about a certain thing.

Evolution of critical thinking

Critical thinking is a lifelong skill that you’ve already been using in high school.

It’s a skill that evolves from a foundational level in high school to a specialised level in university and a highly practical level in your career.

Dive into each section to see how critical thinking evolves.

The foundations are laid for you to hone your critical thinking. You learn to analyse information, ask questions, and evaluate evidence.

Examples of critical thinking in high school are:

At uni, you refine your existing critical thinking skills as you specialise in your chosen degree. You’re exposed to much more complex and specialised knowledge.

Examples of critical thinking at uni include:

No matter what industry you go into, you’ll put your critical thinking skills into practice. You’re exposed to real-world problems and navigate working with a range of people to make decisions and solve problems.

Examples of critical thinking throughout a career include:

Questions for critical thinking

Here are questions you can use for critical thinking while doing your weekly readings, in group discussions in tutorials, when researching for assessments, or in everyday life like reading the news, shopping, or scrolling through social media.

Understanding the main idea

Examining evidence

Identifying assumptions and bias

Considering consequences

Checking relevance

Spotting inconsistencies

Understanding context

Thinking about application

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