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What is Critical Thinking? A Critical Thinking Primer

Updated on February 25, 2013

Understand Clearly with Critical Thinking


Critical Thinking Primer

Here is a short discussion on how to improve critical thinking. Don’t be manipulated by others! Practice Critical Thinking. Critical thinking depends on intelligence, mining of information, and over coming base emotions. Are you up to it?

In this era of easily accessible social media information, people need more than ever the ability to assess information in a critical way.

Critical thinking depends on intelligence not base emotions to discern the truth.

There are powerful communicators who know how to manipulate the human brain. The neuroscience of the brain is studied and used by many groups in order to persuade you.

Here is a book on how marketers are using your own brain to manipulate you!

How they manipulate you and why you need Critical Thinking NOW!

Levels of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is very important in the home, the workplace, on social media, and in personal human relationships, to name just a few examples. Those that practice critical thinking will have improved attention, detail and increased comprehension.

Critical thinking will also help overcome the baser emotional responses that are often wrong and lead to falsehoods.

Those that practice critical thinking are less likely to be duped. Critical thinking practitioners are less likely to fall for emotional sales pitches be they from a product promoter to a political advertisement.

There Five Levels of Critical Thinking

These levels are generally taught to teachers based on the level of ability of the student. Younger students or students newer to the subject(s) will spend more time on level one before progressing to the other levels.

1. Knowledge

2. Comprehension

3. Application

4. Analysis

5. Synthesis

6. Evaluation

Let’s say you are studying the history of the atom bomb as it was developed in Los Alamos New Mexico during WWII.

Let’s develop an understanding of each of these skills using this as our platform.

Los Alamos New Mexico

Pond's Pond in Los Alamos where the Atomic Bomb was developed in WWII.
Pond's Pond in Los Alamos where the Atomic Bomb was developed in WWII. | Source


In order to gather knowledge about the Atom Bomb as developed in New Mexico during WWII. You will need to employ the following knowledge gathering skills.

Who developed it? This would be the government and those leaders as well as the names of the scientists.

Where was it developed? This would include an understanding of the security needs of a remote site such as Los Alamos New Mexico.

What exactly is the atom bomb? At this basic stage of understanding a rudimentary understanding of the power of the bomb would be all that is required.

When did it take place? The answer is the specific years of WWII.

Why? This answer would rely on a basic understanding of WWII and the race to be the first side to develop such a powerful and deadly bomb.

Key words that now follow this basic understanding would include such words as: list, select, spell, show, recall, name, find, match, list, and choose.

The student now has a working level of the subject at hand. Not necessarily the comprehension.


Comprehension is using the knowledge in order to show they grasp the facts and can organize them in a logical way.

This means comparing and classifying the information. Do the facts support the statements made?

How would you interpret the need to build the Atomic Bomb? How would you compare the building of the Atomic Bomb to the current Drone program?

Can you outline how the Atomic Bomb program took place over time?

This comprehension is the first step into internalizing facts and owning them!

Other words that will help you comprehend are: classify, relate, demonstrate, infer, interpret, outline, summarize, and show.


So, how do you use this information to solve a problem? Can you take this information and relate it to a current situation? Have you learned techniques and rules to use the knowledge and the comprehension?

Here is an example. How would you use your knowledge and comprehension of the activities around the WWII Atomic Bomb creation to understand weaponry development and use today? Again, since the drone program is hot in the news right now, it is an effective subject to choose.

You might even ask what elements would you change or alter? Are there elements that are practical to change both in the past and the future? These are all ways to apply your understanding of the subject.

Other words that will help you comprehend include: construct, build, develop, select, model, identify, solve, plan, and interview.


To analyze means to break down the information into parts. These parts will be identified by motives and causes. This is where inferences are made to support general statements.

In the case of the WWII Atomic Bomb program it is easy to provide the motives and causes of such a program. Part of analysis is justification. How did the people during the WWII years justify this program? How did they justify the program after the bomb was used? How do you analyze this?

Other methods that illustrate analysis include the following words: compare, dissect, relationships, distinction, function, assumption, survey, theme, motive, and conclusion.


This level of Critical Thinking usually is for upper level students or adults!

At the Synthesis level you are challenged to take the total of the information and manipulate it in varying ways that combine the above levels. The purpose is to create alternative scenarios.

So, synthesis requires the asking of: “What changes would you make to solve….?”

In the case of the Atomic Bomb subject, what would you have changed?

So, how would the Analytical Thinker evaluate the reasons, the alternatives, and estimate the outcome of the subject that they are exercising their Critical Thinking skills on?

Synthesis relies on the correct understanding of the knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis.

Other words that are pertinent to the synthesis process include: elaborate, predict, originate, propose, adapt, test, change, solve, discuss, theorize, improve, and formulate.

Critical Thinking NOT Base Emotions!

Fear based action!  Fight or Flight!   If the cat was employing critical thinking, she would understand the dog is trying to play with her.
Fear based action! Fight or Flight! If the cat was employing critical thinking, she would understand the dog is trying to play with her. | Source


The final stop on the Critical Thinking journey is evaluation. Evaluation is where most people jump without considering the above! Many of these people are so afraid of facts that disagree with them that they jump to the baser emotion of fear and never progress! Their reliance on fear prevents Critical Thinking. They retain their basic belief relying on fear without completing the Critical Thinkers evaluation.

Evaluation is making a judgment about the quality of the information, validity of the facts or ideas. Evaluation requires the understanding of where the information came from and the goals of those providing the information.

At this point the Critical Thinker asks: What data was used to make the conclusion? How would you justify…? What information would you use to support the view…..? What was the purpose of those promoting the ideas?

The Critical Thinker uses at least three varying sources to provide an evaluation platform. The sources need to be as non-biased as possible. There should be well documented facts from dependable sources used.

There are many words that can be used to help in evaluation and they include but are not limited to the following: determine, judge, compare, recommend, support, decide, dispute, justify, rule on, appraise, deduce, and influence.

See Clearly


Critical Thinking Your Best Friend!

Now what?

Try watching TV advertisements with your Critical Thinking mind. Once you have practiced watching the mostly harmless advertising on TV and applying Critical Thinking you might be ready for the next political season. Political advertisements appeal to base emotions such as fear and that is where our powers of Critical Thinking are severely tested! Critical Thinkers do not fall for fear based manipulation.

With these tools you will be better able to communicate at work, at home, and develop methods to solve even your worst problems! You will be less open to being tricked. You will ask more questions and take fewer things at face value!

The student can use these questions to develop a better report for class.

Exercise your Critical Thinking skills daily!

Los Alamos New Mexico


109 East Palace Street

The entrance to the rare world of Los Alamos was through the Santa Fe NM address of 109 East Palace Street.

Here is a great book on the development of the Atom Bomb in Los Alamos New Mexico during WWII. This community is open to the public and is a fascinating place to visit! It is still the home of many scientific studies and many PhDs!


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