Critical Thinking

Why This Is an Essential Skill

Man using critical thinking skills
••• Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Critical thinking is the process of carefully and systematically analyzing problems to find ways to solve them. It involves identifying several possible solutions and then logically evaluating each one, comparing them to one another on their merits, and then selecting the one that you conclude is the most promising.

Why Should You Become a Critical Thinker?

The ability to think logically about a problem in order to solve it is a valuable soft skill. Employers prefer job candidates who can demonstrate a history of using critical thinking skills. They want to have employees who can solve problems quickly, but more importantly, they want ones who can solve them effectively.

Tips to Help You Develop Critical Thinking

You may think there isn't enough time to take a slow and measured approach to problem solving. After all, time is scarce, and quick and easy answers are appealing. However, rushing to make a decision is less productive than using critical thinking.

Critical thinking is one of several life skills you should try to develop while still in school. Sign up for science classes, for example. Your assignments will require you to generate hypotheses and then test them before coming to conclusions.

Students taking art classes also use critical thinking. To complete projects, you will have to select media and techniques that will best allow you to achieve your artistic vision. 

Join a debate club. Examining issues, adopting stances on them, and then arguing your point will force you to think critically.

Graduates aren't out of luck. Practice your critical thinking while performing everyday activities. Before voting, for instance, learn about each of the candidates. When deciding where to have dinner, weigh your alternatives regarding the type of food, healthfulness, and cost. If making a purchase, do your research and read reviews of different brands.

Careers That Require Strong Critical Thinking Skills

While you can expect to use critical thinking in most occupations, there are some in which they are a primary part of the job. These occupations involve regularly making decisions and solving problems:

  • JudgeJudges preside over criminal and civil legal cases, making sure they are handled fairly. 
  • AttorneysAttorneys represent people who are involved in civil and criminal legal cases.
  • ActuaryActuaries estimate the probability of certain events occurring and assess how much it will cost their employers or clients if they do.
  • DoctorsDoctors examine patients in order to diagnose and then treat illnesses and injuries.
  • Operations Research AnalystOperation research analysts solve problems for companies and organizations using their knowledge of mathematics.
  • PrincipalPrincipals manage everything that goes on inside school buildings. They establish educational goals and make sure their faculty meets them.
  • Biomedical EngineerBiomedical engineers first analyze and then solve problems having to do with biology and medicine.
  • Biochemist or BiophysicistBiochemists study the chemical composition of living things. Biophysicists investigate how electrical and mechanical energy relates to living cells and organisms.
  • Medical ScientistMedical scientists research the causes of diseases and find ways to treat and prevent them.
  • Financial ExaminerFinancial examiners make sure banks and other financial institutions adhere to government laws and regulations.
  • EngineerEngineers use their scientific and mathematical expertise to solve problems.
  • Physician AssistantPhysician assistants, under doctors' supervision, examine and treat patients.
  • DentistDentists diagnose and treat problems with patients' teeth and mouth tissue.
  • Special AgentSpecial agents collect information in order to determine if people or organizations have violated any laws.
  • GeoscientistGeoscientists study physical aspects of the earth and may search for natural resources.
  • Clinical or Counseling Psychologist: Before developing a treatment plan, clinical and counseling psychologists assess patients for mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.
  • AnthropologistAnthropologists study the origin, development, and behavior of human beings.
  • Optometrist: Optometrists diagnose and treat eye diseases and disorders.
  • AudiologistAudiologists diagnose hearing difficulties and balance disorders.
  • ArchaeologistArchaeologists excavate and analyze artifacts left behind by earlier civilizations.
  • ChemistChemists use knowledge about chemicals to create products that improve our lives. 
  • Occupational TherapistOccupational therapists help patients recover their ability to perform daily living and work activities.
  • PilotPilots fly planes and helicopters for airlines that transport people and cargo on a fixed schedule or companies that offer charter flights, rescue operations, or aerial photography.
  • Dietitian or NutritionistDietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs, supervise the preparation and serving of meals, and promote healthy eating habits.
  • EMT or ParamedicEMTs and paramedics treat ill or injured people who need immediate care.
  • Marriage and Family TherapistMarriage and family therapists provide therapy to families, couples, and individuals. They work from the perspective that those with whom we live have an impact on our mental health.
  • Health EducatorHealth educators teach individuals and communities how to live healthy lifestyles.
  • Computer and Information Systems ManagerComputer and information systems managers coordinate companies' and other organizations' computer-related activities.
  • Financial AdvisorFinancial advisors help clients plan for their financial goals.
  • Physical TherapistPhysical therapists help rehabilitate people who received injuries in accidents or who have disabling conditions.
  • Fashion Designer: Fashion designers create clothing and accessories.
  • Marketing ManagerMarketing managers formulate companies' marketing strategies.
  • PharmacistPharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and provide them with information about how to use them.
  • Human Resources SpecialistHuman resources specialists select job candidates who are most likely to meet their employers' needs.
  • Urban or Regional PlannerUrban and regional planners help communities figure out how to best use their land and resources.
  • Survey ResearcherSurvey researchers design questionnaires and other tools that are used to collect data about people.
  • AssessorAssessors determine the values of multiple properties for cities, counties, and other municipalities.
  • Forensic ScientistForensic scientists gather and analyze physical evidence from crime scenes.
  • Desktop PublisherDesktop publishers produce publication-ready materials using computer software.
  • Event PlannerEvent planners coordinate conventions, business meetings, trade shows, and private parties for organizations, businesses, and individuals.