14How Do I Think Critically?
A Guide to Improving Your Studies

by Danny K. Howard, EAP Associate Director

A lot is written about thinking critically, and perhaps you may have been told that this is important for studying at NIC. However, many students might be confused about how they can actually do this to improve their studying. Below is a detailed step-by-step explanation of how this can be done. I also gave you an example in recent news to show you how it can be effective for your understanding of a topic.

Imagine that you are reading an article in class about Mount St. Helens. Here are some steps that you should do to think critically and be better prepared to discuss this in class:

1. Categorize it

To categorize something means to put it in a group to understand what it is. In other words, get the basics first. You should do this to think about the topic in general before you move to a specific understanding. Once you get this basic background information and categorize it clearly, you can move on to the next step.

What is Mount St. Helens?
Category: Mount St. Helens is a volcano.
Location: Washington state
Basic Info: The last eruption in 1980 was one of the largest in history.

2. Connect What You Already Know

You may or may not have some knowledge about the subject. A lot of this depends on how much you read or how much you watch informative TV programs. But try to depend on what you know about the topic. This is important to help you understand what you will learn. If you don’t know much specific information about the topic, think of what you already know in a more general sense. Create a circle outline for this.


3. Ask Questions About the Topic

Surely there is more that you want to know about the topic. Above you showed what you already know about it. Now it is time to discover what you expect to learn about it. Here’s an example of the types of questions you could ask yourself:

  • Why do volcanoes erupt?
  • How powerful is a volcanic eruption?
  • How much damage did the last eruption at Mount St. Helens do?
  • How do scientists know when a volcano is ready to erupt?
  • What can people do to be safe?

4. Gather More Information About the Subject

Now, read the article and research to find out more information, as well. This is important because teachers will ask other questions connected to what you are reading. At NIC and at colleges & universities abroad, teachers often use readings as a basis for discussion, but they also ask a lot of questions connected to the topic. So it is a good idea to do some additional research and reading to be prepared. Try to answer all of the questions that you made in the previous step and try to find out even more. During this step, it is also a good idea to locate some good vocabulary words that are useful for the topic. Teachers are always impressed when you expand your vocabulary!!

5. Analyze & Link

Now you are ready for the final very important step: Analyzing & Linking. Analyzing means to think deeply about the information that you have read. Try to understand it and make connections with everything that you have done so far. Linking means to connect ideas. You have already 1) categorized the topic 2) used your background knowledge 3) questioned it 4) and researched it further. Now take all of this and make connections in your understanding. 

A Final Note

This is critical thinking: going deeper and more detailed in your understanding of a topic. Students who simply read the article will only get a very basic understanding of what they are reading about. However, students who think critically about it will be better prepared for all of the challenges in the classroom. Good luck to you in your studies!!