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Over 2000 years ago in Asia Minor, a young man approached the Temple of Zeus, where a cart was tied with the legendary Gordian knot. For years, others had sought to untie it, for there was a prophecy that whoever loosened this intricate knot would rule all of Asia. He examined it thoughtfully, evaluated his options, then sliced through the knot with his sword.

Alexander the Great demonstrated what we now know as critical thinking. Perhaps he learned this skill from his tutor, Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of his time. Today’s leaders in education, health care, business, and the military are learning vital cognitive skills from Peter and Noreen Facione, Ph.D.s, researchers, international consultants, and authors in the field of critical thinking.

Peter Facione was the Principal Investigator for the landmark American Philosophical Association Delphi Project, working with an international panel of 46 experts from the humanities, social sciences, science, and education to come up with an operational definition of critical thinking. Essentially, critical thinking is a “purposeful, reflective judgment focused on deciding what to believe or what to do” (California Critical Skills Test User Manual, 2015, p. 10; see also Facione & Facione, 2013). 

The Delphi project identified  6 core critical thinking skills:

  • Interpretation: to comprehend the meaning of a wide variety of experiences.
  • Analysis: to identify relationships among statements, questions, concepts, and claims.
  • Inference: to consider elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions.
  • Evaluation: to assess the credibility of claims and arguments
  • Explanation: to state the reasons for your conclusion clearly and coherently
  • Self-Regulation: to monitor your own thought processes, continuing to learn from experience and self-correcting when necessary (Critical Thinking, 1990).

The Faciones have developed a validated measure of critical thinking, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST), which has been translated into 12 languages with specialized forms for business, military science, the health sciences, and law. They see critical thinking as essential to success not only personally but collectively. Weakness in critical thinking has been linked to many personal and social ills including failure to learn, confused communication, job loss, lost revenue, drug addiction, imprisonment, ineffective law enforcement, heart disease, patient deaths, domestic violence, and suicide (CCTST, 2015, p. 9). In fact, according to Peter Facione, without critical thinking, “cultures disintegrate, communities collapse, the machinery of civilization fails” (Facione, P. A., 2015, p. 26).  Noreen Facione maintains that “critical thinking (reflectively deciding what to believe and what to do) is more fundamental to survival than any of the 3 R’s.” Today, more than ever, she emphasizes our need to develop strong critical thinking skills: “We are constantly bombarded by claims in the media. Strong critical thinkers are vigilant and seek to evaluate the credibility of these claims. Weak critical thinkers are gullible and easily victimized” (personal communication, May 29, 2015).

What kind of thinker are you? Do you jump right in and try to solve problems before thinking them through—or are you a critical thinker who asks tough questions, weighs alternatives, and evaluates different options before making up your mind?

You can begin strengthening your critical thinking skills with the Faciones’ 5-step IDEAS process:

          IDENTIFY the problem and set priorities

D         DETERMINE relevant information and deepen understanding

E         ENUMERATE options and anticipate consequences

A         ASSESS the situation and make a preliminary decision

S          SCRUTINIZE the process and self-correct as needed (Facione and Gittens, 2016, pp. 42-44)

The Faciones encourage all of us to strengthen our critical thinking skills to navigate through the complex challenges of our time: “A nation who practices this habit of mind will have strong communities, schools and workplaces, and will find a well-reasoned path to the future” (personal communication, May 29, 2105).

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California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) User Manual. (2015). San Jose, CA: Insight Assessment/The California Academic Press.

Critical Thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. (1990). Milbrae, CA: California Academic Press. Executive summary available at www.insightassessment.com.

Facione, P.A., & Facione, N. C. (2013). Critical thinking for life: Valuing, measuring, and training critical thinking in all its forms. Inquiry, 28, 5-25.

Facione, P. A. (2015) Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Hermosa Beach, CA: Measured Reasons LLC. For more information and guides to assessing your own critical thinking, see www.insightassessment.com and the Facione and Gittens 2016 book (below).

Facione, P. A., & Gittens, C. A. (2016). THINK Critically. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, personal coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web site at www.dianedreher.com

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