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Reading, thinking, and writing at a graduate level

Learn how to read, think and write at a graduate level to ensure your success in a graduate program.

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Thinking at a graduate level

  • What does it mean to think?
  • What does it mean to think at the graduate level?
  • How do we work with thought and graduate education while engaging in thought that is valuable and reflects upon itself?
  • When we talk about thinking at the graduate level, what we are really talking about is critical thinking.  But what exactly is critical thinking?

To answer these questions, we turn to The Foundation for Critical Thinking. On their website ( , they provide a concise history of critical thinking and also present a number of definitions, including the well-known and often quoted one proposed by Sumner (1906/1940, as cited by The Foundation for Critical Thinking, n.d.-a) who defined critical thinking as:

the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. (para.1)

The Foundation for Critical Thinking (n.d.-b) further defined critical thinking as:

that mode of thinking--about any subject, content, or problem--in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. (para. 2)

They go on to describe a “well-cultivated” critical thinker as one who:

  • Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
  • Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • Thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and 
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems. (para. 5)

You might find it helpful as you make your way through the MA program to keep this list of the characteristics of a critical thinker posted for handy reference. Ask yourself from time to time: “Am I engaging in this level of thinking?”

Thinking about thinking

As you review these and other definitions of critical thinking and view critical thinking as an activity, you will see that they have some aspects in common.  Essentially, critical thinking has four main components:

  • It is creative
  • It has a linguistic aspect 
  • It involves making decisions 
  • It assumes meta-cognitive activity