How international students can brush up their critical thinking skills
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How international students can brush up their critical thinking skills

How international students can brush up their critical thinking skills

There are ten skills you’ll need to thrive in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 report ‘The Future of Jobs’.

These are the skills that workers will require to benefit from the wave of “new products, new technologies and new ways of working”, brought into fruition by the advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning that could take over the world as soon as 2020.

One of these skills is critical thinking.

It’s a term that’s been described in more than a dozen ways. Richard Arum, a New York University sociology professor calls it “the ability to cross-examine evidence and [form a] logical argument. To sift through all the noise,” while educational psychologist Linda Elder describes it as “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”

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In a world dominated by robots and artificial intelligence, critical thinking will ensure you stay relevant in the workplace. Source:Alex Knight on Unsplash

Author Bill Gormley distinguishes it from other cognitive abilities like creative thinking: “It’s a complement to creative thinking, which is much more about novelty and inspiration, vs. analysis and weighing of arguments. Both have to be brought together to do problem-solving.”

“Problem-solving typically leverages critical and creative thinking to find a solution to a particular issue. In the end, it’s helpful to imagine an overlapping Venn diagram among different kinds of thinking. The best performance results [come] from  harnessing all three of them.”

However you define it, we know bosses of today and of the future are looking for this skillset, and many universities are rushing to offer a myriad of courses on it.

The problem for international students, however, is they may be coming from a disadvantaged background. For example, students from countries with a predominantly rote-teaching education system like China, struggle when they come to university in the US and have to adapt to a foreign way of studying which focuses on analytical writing, communication with peers and professors and of course, critical thinking.

While it may take time to unlearn the rigid methods these international students have fostered since young, it’s never too late to cultivate critical thinking capabilities. There are many courses or classes you can sign up to. This, however, will likely be costly and time-consuming.

Thankfully, the Internet allows international students to tap into a wealth of useful – not to mention free – resources.


One of them is the massively popular Ted Talk video by educator Samantha Agoos, which lays down a nifty five-step process that anyone can start applying to everyday life. It won’t transform how you learn overnight or make difficult decisions a piece of cake, but it’s a good first step towards making more informed life choices, as well as teaching thought processes that will positively impact your university studies:

1. Formulate your question.

In other words, know what you’re looking for. Often, our motivations for doing something are obscured by certain distractions. For example, when going on a new fad diet, we typically forget our true motivations for doing so, like weight loss and better nutrition. Instead of getting distracted on other things like wanting to see results asap, we should focus on our motivations and see whether the new fad really fits our needs.

2. Gather your information

The next step is research. If you’re looking to analyse a potential university course, gather as much information from as many sources as possible after you’ve carefully formulated your question relating to the studying of that particular course (ie. step one).

3. Apply the information

Source: Giphy

This means asking critical questions. Attack the information you’ve gathered by asking questions such as “What biases are at play here?”, “Are the sources reliable?” and “Is it logical for me to interpret this bit of info as such?”.

4. Consider the implications

If a university is promising less contact hours with lecturers, that may sound like a great idea at first for the possibility of having less coursework and the chance to goof off your studies. But consider the long-term effect (intended or unintended) this might have on your studies. You could be stuck with no guidance when you need it and your grades could suffer as a result.

5. Explore other points of view

Using sites like Niche, you will have access to hundreds of opinions about courses and universities in the US. Take a look at views opposing universities offering less contact hours. This ensures you get a “full spectrum of viewpoints”, allowing you to “explore alternatives, evaluate your own choices and ultimately, help you make more informed choices”.

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