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Graduate College of Drexel University

Critical thinking versus problem solving.

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Many people lump critical thinking and problem-solving together into one basket, and while there are similarities, there are also distinct differences. Critical thinking utilizes analysis, reflection, evaluation, interpretation, and inference to synthesize information that is obtained through reading, observing, communicating, or experience to answer the following questions:

Problem-solving uses many of the same skills, such as observing, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting, but it takes the process a step further to identify obstacles and then to strategically map out a set of solutions to solve the problem.

So, how can you develop these skills to be a better critical thinker and a better problem solver? You cannot train yourself to be a critical thinker or a problem solver overnight; you should start slow. Work on one sub-skill at a time. Let’s look at each of these sub-skills:

Regardless of position, you can develop analytical skills by analyzing issues, programs, experiences, etc. to break them down into easier to digest chunks to gain a better or deeper understanding. To do this:

Learning to be reflective is something you can do with nearly every aspect of your professional and personal life. Start a journal and continually ask yourself questions and explore the answers honestly. This experience will open your mind to reflection, which is the process by which you look at your role in a given situation or experience. The best part of journaling – you can go back and re-read and see your progress over time. To begin the process:

We evaluate things all the time without realizing it – products, services, etc. Begin by being aware of this act. Similar to deepening your analysis skills, you can evaluate any issue, topic, program, procedure, policy, etc. through the means listed below to enhance your evaluation skills.


The act of interpreting something is using a combination of analytical and evaluation skills, but it is a little more difficult to learn on your own. It is best to partner with someone to hone these skills – a trusted colleague or even a mentor, with whom you can put the following into practice.

One of the best ways to begin to develop strategic thinking skills is to do some long-range planning. You can start with your own professional goals, think about short-term goals and how those will help you get from point A to point B, and more importantly, how they lay the groundwork for longer-range goals. Keep practicing by employing these tactics.

We utilize many of these skills each day, even multiple times a day; however, often we do it without realizing it. The first step to enhancing your critical thinking and problem solving skills is to think about them, become aware of them, then you can actively practice to improve them. Critical thinking and problem-solving are two important “soft” or essential skills hiring managers are looking for. According to a Linkedin survey, 57% of business leaders say soft skills are now more important than hard skills. Abby Guthrie, a communications team leader at argues, “Every soft skill that you develop will be something you will eventually draw on in your career.” These skills are anything but soft, they are essential to your career.

Anne Converse Willkomm Assistant Clinical Professor Department Head of Graduate Studies Goodwin College Drexel University Sources:

Skills You Need

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Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Analytical Reasoning Skills Sought by Employers

In this section:

Problem Solving

Analytical Reasoning

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Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem-solving skills are required to perform well on tasks expected by employers. 1 Having good problem-solving and critical thinking skills can make a major difference in a person’s career. 2

Every day, from an entry-level employee to the Chairman of the Board, problems need to be resolved. Whether solving a problem for a client (internal or external), supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new problems to solve, the challenges faced may be simple/complex or easy/difficult.

A fundamental component of every manager's role is solving problems. So, helping students become a confident problem solver is critical to their success; and confidence comes from possessing an efficient and practiced problem-solving process.

Employers want employees with well-founded skills in these areas, so they ask four questions when assessing a job candidate 3 :

When an employer says they want employees who are good at solving complex problems, they are saying they want employees possessing the following skills:

Two of the major components of problem-solving skills are critical thinking and analytical reasoning.  These two skills are at the top of skills required of applicants by employers.

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Critical Thinking 4

“Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site” 5 Making logical and reasoned judgments that are well thought out is at the core of critical thinking. Using critical thinking an individual will not automatically accept information or conclusions drawn from to be factual, valid, true, applicable or correct. “When students are taught how to use critical thinking to tap into their creativity to solve problems, they are more successful than other students when they enter management-training programs in large corporations.” 6

A strong applicant should question and want to make evidence-based decisions. Employers want employees who say things such as: “Is that a fact or just an opinion? Is this conclusion based on data or gut feel?” and “If you had additional data could there be alternative possibilities?” Employers seek employees who possess the skills and abilities to conceptualize, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information to reach an answer or conclusion.

Employers require critical thinking in employees because it increases the probability of a positive business outcome. Employers want employees whose thinking is intentional, purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed.

Recruiters say they want applicants with problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They “encourage applicants to prepare stories to illustrate their critical-thinking prowess, detailing, for example, the steps a club president took to improve attendance at weekly meetings.” 7

Employers want students to possess analytical reasoning/thinking skills — meaning they want to hire someone who is good at breaking down problems into smaller parts to find solutions. “The adjective, analytical, and the related verb analyze can both be traced back to the Greek verb, analyein — ‘to break up, to loosen.’ If a student is analytical, you are good at taking a problem or task and breaking it down into smaller elements in order to solve the problem or complete the task.” 9

Analytical reasoning connotes a person's general aptitude to arrive at a logical conclusion or solution to given problems. Just as with critical thinking, analytical thinking critically examines the different parts or details of something to fully understand or explain it. Analytical thinking often requires the person to use “cause and effect, similarities and differences, trends, associations between things, inter-relationships between the parts, the sequence of events, ways to solve complex problems, steps within a process, diagraming what is happening.” 10

Analytical reasoning is the ability to look at information and discern patterns within it. “The pattern could be the structure the author of the information uses to structure an argument, or trends in a large data set. By learning methods of recognizing these patterns, individuals can pull more information out of a text or data set than someone who is not using analytical reasoning to identify deeper patterns.” 11

Employers want employees to have the aptitude to apply analytical reasoning to problems faced by the business. For instance, “a quantitative analyst can break down data into patterns to discern information, such as if a decrease in sales is part of a seasonal pattern of ups and downs or part of a greater downward trend that a business should be worried about. By learning to recognize these patterns in both numbers and written arguments, an individual gains insights into the information that someone who simply takes the information at face value will miss.” 12

Managers with excellent analytical reasoning abilities are considered good at, “evaluating problems, analyzing them from more than one angle and finding a solution that works best in the given circumstances”. 13 Businesses want managers who can apply analytical reasoning skills to meet challenges and keep a business functioning smoothly

A person with good analytical reasoning and pattern recognition skills can see trends in a problem much easier than anyone else.

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Political Finance Questions

Is problem solving and critical thinking the same thing?

Problem-solving is a set of techniques you specifically use to find effective solutions, as opposed to critical thinking , which is a lifelong practice you use to improve your thinking process.

What is the main difference between critical thinking and thinking?

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Critical thinking requires logic and accuracy, while thinking sometimes occurs in the form of faith and personal opinion . The former requires evidence and further actions of examination and analysis, while the latter does not.

Examples of Critical Thinking A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated . A plumber evaluates the materials that would best suit a particular job. An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.

In practice, problem-solving tends to focus on the identification and resolution of a problem, whilst critical thinking goes beyond this to incorporate asking skilled questions and critiquing solutions.

What is another word for critical thinking?

Critical Thinking means: the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you. Which basically means objective, unbiased or disinterested in one’s thinking and analysis. The opposite of it could be biased, subjective or emotional thinking .

Top 5 critical thinking skills

Developing a critical thinking means questioning, identifying different point of view, and evaluating arguments made by others. On the other hand, problem solving is about using logic and imagination to understand a situation in order to find a solution.

In fact, critical thinking and problem-solving go hand-in-hand . They both refer to using knowledge, facts, and data to solve problems effectively. But with problem-solving, you are specifically identifying, selecting, and defending your solution.

Critical thinking skills are important because they enable students “to deal effectively with social, scientific, and practical problems” (Shakirova, 2007, p. 42). Simply put, students who are able to think critically are able to solve problems effectively. Merely having knowledge or information is not enough.

The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance . Let’s explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they’re so important to the critical thinking process.

Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace

Some key problem-solving skills include:

3 Modes Of Thinking: Lateral, Divergent & Convergent Thought .

Critical Thinking Can Be Defined As Ask questions . Gather relevant information. Think through solutions and conclusions. Consider alternative systems of thought.

We can distinguish between critical reading and critical thinking in the following way: Critical reading is a technique for discovering information and ideas within a text. Critical thinking is a technique for evaluating information and ideas, for deciding what to accept and believe.

Critical thinking is primarily concerned with judging the true value of statements and seeking errors whereas lateral thinking focuses more on the “movement value” of statements and ideas . A person uses lateral thinking to move from one known idea to new ideas.

Thinking and reasoning are two mental processes between which a key difference can be discerned. Thinking encapsulates a large arena of thought production that can be either conscious or unconscious. On the contrary, reasoning is limited to the conscious production of mental thought with the use of logic.

How does critical thinking differ from ordinary thinking? Rather than thinking about something at random, critical thinking is directed and purposeful and requires skills such as effective reading, writing, listening and communicating. Involves an open mind and looking at things from a different perspective .

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Critical thinking involves asking questions, defining a problem, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering other interpretations, and tolerating ambiguity.

Related posts:

Critical, Lateral, & Creative Thinking

Critical thinking & problem-solving, introduction.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrected. In other words, it is a thought process that involves the evaluation, assessment, and reinterpretation of your own or others’ ideas and thought processes. Critical thinking requires effort and dedication, but pays dividends for the time invested.

Critical thinking comes into play in a wide variety of circumstances. As a citizen of a democracy, it is important to think critically and do background research each time an election is coming up or when there is a news story about which you want to be more informed. As a student, you want to think critically about near term options, such as what courses to take, and longer term decisions, such as how to plan your degree and whether the degree you’re planning should be directed toward current employment, future employment, or your own academic interest that may or may not be related to a current or potential career.

Critical thinking involves analysis, or breaking something (a concept, an argument, a piece of information) down into its parts in order to understand and evaluate it, as a prelude to accepting or rejecting it.  You’re expected to think critically when you’re asked to analyze an article for a college assignment, for example, and offer your own opinion on its validity.  You also think critically when you analyze real-life situations such as moving your residence, changing jobs, or buying a car.

View the following videos on critical thinking, which further define the concept and offer some steps to apply in order to think critically and solve problems.

What are the key concepts of this video?

What examples do you have of the following?

The first two concepts often have positive outcomes, while the last two concepts may result in negative outcomes. Most likely you will have done all four of these things subconsciously in the workplace or other situations.

This video offers one (of many) ways to consider something critically:

Both videos emphasize the need to consider a question, problem, action, or issue consciously and planfully, breaking it into its parts and considering the parts, before putting them back together with a reasoned solution or multiple potential, reasoned solutions.

Just for fun, here’s a short video on assumptions, a concept related to critical thinking.

initial learning activity

First, read and view information on the Lateral & Creative Thinking page of this text.

Then, write a brief essay (4-5 pages) applying critical, lateral, and creative thinking skills to the solution of a real problem. Use the following format:

Submit: essay applying thinking skills

in-depth learning activity

Then, read the publication, Robot-Ready: Human + Skills for the Future of Work . (You may have read excerpts from this in other sections of this text.)

The authors of Robot-Ready assert a number of things, including that:

Consider these assertions critically.  Do you accept the evidence provided?  What assumptions, if any, are inherent in the information? What biases, if any, are inherent in the information?  Is there enough data to back up the assertion, and is that data valid?

Then choose one assertion that you feel is sound, based on your analysis.  Apply critical (and lateral and creative) thinking processes to problem-solve and project a way of enacting the concept asserted.  For example:

Related college Learning Goals

Active Learning: Assess and build upon previous learning and experiences to pursue new learning, independently and in collaboration with others.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Evaluate, analyze, synthesize and critique key concepts and experiences, and apply diverse perspectives to find creative solutions to problems concerning human behavior, society and the natural world.

For more information, see the College Learning Goals Policy .

Skill IT

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Theoretical introduction – theory behind the scenarios.

This chapter will introduce learning theories, methods, concepts and workshop scenarios related to developing critical thinking and problem solving skills in young people as defined by the P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning. The Framework defines the knowledge, skills, and expertise young people should master as critical thinkers and problem solvers to succeed in work and life in the 21st century.

The research underpinning the development of this toolkit identified critical thinking and problem solving as one of the most important skill-sets employers expect young people to have to increase their future employability. In addition to this, we are living in a world where young people have an unprecedented opportunity to create change in their lives, their communities and across the world. New technologies and the democratisation of digital tools have been key drivers accelerating this change.

With the right support, young people can develop as critical thinkers and become changemakers. Critical thinking and problem solving skills equip young people to analyse and evaluate whether the information they are receiving, whether from an individual or organisation, is just, fair and truthful.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are many types of projects designed to develop young people’s critical thinking and problem solving skills to empower them to explore topics and issues they care about. Youth media [1], youth as researchers [2] and youth as changemakers [3] are innovative examples of projects that can empower young people to affect change and have an impact on their intended audience.

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking can be defined as a mode of reasoning, about any subject, content or problem in which the thinker improves the quality of his / her thinking by skilfully analysing, assessing and reconstructing it [4]. Critical thinking is self-directed self-monitored and self-corrective thinking. The following, extracted from the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning, outlines the knowledge and skills young people need to develop to become critical thinkers:

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving can be defined as committing to an action or judgement after evaluating the facts, data or possible learning from a situation [4]. Problem solving is used to develop alternative courses of action that are based on logical assumptions and factual information and that take into consideration resources, constraints, and familiarity with situations.

The following outlines the knowledge and skills young people need to develop to become problem solvers:

Learning by Doing and Experiential Learning 

Learning by doing and experiential learning are two pedagogical approaches widely used to inform youth work processes and activities. These approaches are informed by two important theories of learning and education; Piaget’s constructivism and Papert’s constructionism [5].

Learning by doing is a methodology used by The Clubhouse Network [6] to facilitate young people to learn to design, create, experiment, explore, inquire and solve problems through technology and project-based learning.

In Creators not Consumers [7], the author Mark Smith discusses experiential learning (learning by doing) in a youth work context and how it is based on three assumptions:

Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry based learning is a youth centred educational approach driven by young people’s questions, informed by learning theories such as Dewey’s contructivism [8] and Kolb’s experiential learning [9]. Young people are mentored and guided by youth workers and educators to figure out what their ‘true’ questions are – the things they really care about. Youth media projects, such as producing a film, a photostory or radio show offer authentic inquiry experiences for young people. They are required to ask questions of themselves and others in order to seek answers to the topics they are exploring. These topics can often be grassroots, community based issues, or issues related to the needs of young people. They often get to collaborate and work with others in their community. Through this process, young people can discover multiple answers and perspectives on a given topic that they need to analyze, debate and evaluate. This analysis helps them develop new knowledge and draw conclusions that can be shared with others, often to effect change.

This youth-led learning approach differs to formal education where the learning is driven by a defined curriculum, delivered by a teacher for the purpose of assessment [10]. Inquiry based learning is encouraging to young people who may have different needs. The approach allows young people to find their own interests and move at their own pace. The process may appear unstructured, rather, it is just differently structured and can often take more planning, preparation and responsiveness from the youth worker.

Introduction to Create with Purpose

Create with Purpose is a methodology designed for Adobe Youth Voices Program to support youth workers to facilitate a highly intentional approach to making media that is youth-led and purposeful [10].

When youth workers guide young people to Create with Purpose they produce media (such as films, photostories, animations, websites) that are:

The challenge for youth workers is to strike a fine balance between being completely hands off during the youth-led Create with Purpose process and telling young people exactly what to do. Always push young people to be original and to make something that truly reflects their interests, needs or issues they care about – to make something that only they can make that reflects their vision and creativity.

When young people create media with a purpose they develop critical thinking and problem solving skills applicable to all walks of their lives; in their education, community and careers.


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