In the modern education system, there can be a noticeable schism between the analytical world of mathematics and the critical world of the humanities. Some students find it easier to think analytically in a linear mathematical way than think critically in a non-linear literary way. One of the first ways to develop critical thinking in an academic setting is to apply the word why to the subject at hand. To think in a critical manner is to question every aspect of a topic, from the credibility of the source to your own subjective conclusions and opinions.
Learning to think critically is an active and ongoing exercise for many people. One way to improve critical thinking skills is to use more than one source of information before forming a solid opinion on a news item. Compare several newspapers' coverage of the same event, or watch different television news outlets to see how the same story could be slanted in one direction or another. When you begin to think critically about a current event, you may become more aware of how much your own prejudices, beliefs and opinions can influence your stance on the issue.
To critically analyze things means to consider all aspects of a subject with an open mind before forming an opinion. It does not mean to be unnecessarily cynical or judgmental about the validity of the facts or the source. Essentially, a critical thinker is like a jury member, who must weigh not only the facts of the case, but how those facts were obtained and the motivation behind them. To think critically means to examine not only the subject at hand, but also the methods used to generate the information.
This is why the question "Why?" is an important one to ask when you learn to think critically. Why would an author choose to assign those particular names to his or her characters? Why didn't the reporter interview the leader of the opposition? Why did this politician vote against a proposed law? Critical thinking skills are learned through active practice, so you may want to spend some time each day examining a controversial issue such as abortion, capital punishment or gun control and ask yourself why you believe the way you do on that issue? By taking the time to examine both sides of a polarizing or controversial issue, you can improve your ability to think critically in general.