One of the biggest jolts you will experience as you make your way from a high school to a college education and beyond is how you are expected to think. While thousands of teenagers are currently spending their last summer at home, counting down the hours until they can leave the nest and make it on their own, few realize the work involved at college and then in the big world. No longer spoon-fed information and sources, you and you alone will be expected to collect and analyze information from your lectures, study them, evaluate them, then create links and form ideas from this. This is called critical thinking.
So how do you think like this?
Question things – everything! Don’t just accept what you are told as truth, and don’t be satiated with basic information. If you read or hear something, ask why. How was this information found? Who found it? Is it a fact? Are they biased? What does it prove? You will find yourself starting to think outside the box.
Tools for using this technique: Pick up a few tabloid newspapers and go through them. Tabloid papers are renowned for half-truths and fake sources, so it is a good way of putting your skills to work. Read a story and looks for parts you could question. Phrases like “Sources reveal”, “It seems that,” or “Rumor has it” are classic holes in storytelling.
What sources? Are they reliable? How does it seem, and to who? Where are these rumors coming from and is there any truth to them? After you have read the story, write down as many solid facts as you can glean, as well as your questions. What conclusions have you drawn?
We all know the adage “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me”, and it does hold merit. Critical thinking is similar to lateral thinking in that you must dispose of assumptions that you hold to be true. If you’re studying Shakespeare and are starting with the assumption that he is one of the greatest writers and wordsmiths of all time, step back a minute and think. Is he? Says who? Is it true? What do you think? Sometimes starting from square one with no base knowledge is better than starting with assumed knowledge.
Tools for using this technique: Lateral thinking puzzles and riddles – which can be found all over the internet – are a great way of opening up your mind. Once you have tried a few, you will really get the hang of thinking laterally and reasoning in a whole new way. A great source is Rink Works.
Focus on the details
Often, the details are what makes a story, and finding and evaluating details can come in useful when you’re studying at college. Teamed with questioning, detail-focusing will mean you start to understand and deconstruct a text, theory, lecture, or whatever it is you’re working on. Once you have reached that point, you are then able to start creating links between ideas.
Tools for using this technique: Although it may sound twee, joining a book group before you go off to college is a great way to build and enhance your skills of analysis. Not only will you become more well-read, but you will be practicing reading for understanding, and pick up things you missed from others’ opinions. Another great tool is Geoguessr (one of my favorite games I play with my 12-year-old son), a game which uses a random snapshot from Google Street View, where players then have to use clues within the image to guess where in the world it is. It’s fun, visual, and gets your brain thinking and picking up clues.
Try a different angle
You’ve hit a road block, a writing block, a place where you can’t seem to be any more innovative or critical. It happens. Try turning your scenario on its head, come at it from a completely different angle. If you’re studying literature, use a minor character instead of the protagonist, and try to see things from their perspective. If you’re studying a historical event, work backward instead of forward. Throwing in a different angle or perspective can shake things up and point out details you missed before.
Tools for using this technique: Your Smartest Friend is a digital assistant developed here at InsightNG, providing you with the tools and freedom to find new branches of your knowledge you wouldn’t have found before, pushing you in different directions. You can interact with your own knowledge and understanding in a more intuitive way, allowing you to discover new angles and create new links between ideas.
Chances are, the first time you try out critical thinking, it will be hard, and you will be mentally exhausted. Don’t leave it until college to try it out; it’s a completely new method and will need some honing. Spend the summer engaging in some easy techniques to ease you into it.
Tools for using this technique: Get online and find some simple brain games to wake up your brain every day. Simple 10-15 minutes in the morning will ease you into critical thinking, and we recommend Happy Neuron and Teachnology. Don’t worry, you won’t feel like you are pre-studying with these fun games, although that’s what you are actually doing.
Being prepared for your college education is priceless, and being able to think critically will not only help you in education but in your everyday life after you graduate.
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