The Six Levels of Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking involves six layers of learning and evaluating new information and ideas begining with learning basic knowledge all the way through complex evaluation of material to determine its validity as well as how and when to use certain pieces of information.

By Joan Whetzel

Critical thinking skills are not always natural to everyone, but can be learned and tend to evolve from attainment of basic knowledge to the ability to understand, apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate new pieces of information. There are six levels – or stages – of critical thinking skills.

Level/ Stage 1: Knowledge 

Level or state 1 critical thinking skills involve the attainment of basic knowledge. This includes identifying key topics and issue provided during discussions, lectures and reading. Most journalists refer to this as the 5 Ws of who, what, where, when and why, plus how. Examples of stage 1 critical thinking are knowing the author of the Declaration of Independence or being able to providing a simple definition of “a priori.”


Level/Stage 2: Comprehension

Level or stage 2 adds comprehension skills, integrating the ability to interpret the meaning of facts and ideas gained from discussions, lectures and reading. The listener understands the meaning of what has been said and read, see a cause and effect between events or actions, and intuit the implications of certain actions and words. This stage of critical thinking begins drawing connections between the new information and the knowledge or information already gained. Examples of stage 2 critical thinking might in clued being able to explain “negative reinforcement” or understanding the meaning “a priori”.


Level/Stage 3: Application

Level/stage 3 of critical thinking entails the ability to apply the new information to situations, problems or a set of circumstances. The new information is being used to find solutions. Examples of stage 3  critical thinking include drawing on one’s own theories on social justice to solve current social issues, applying knowledge of anatomy to the dissection of a frog or fetal pig, or identifying specific locations on a local, national or world map.


Level/Stage 4: Analysis

Level or stage 4 critical thinking skills begin recognizing patterns, identifying meanings of words, phrases and ideas, and breaking down new ideas and information parts and wholes. The new information is being analyzed for flaws in logic and to determine if the new knowledge, assumptions or ideas are valid based on what the learner already knows. Examples of stage 4 critical thinking embraces the ability to compare and contrast themes in 2 or more pieces of reading material the ability to determine where errors in judgment, logic, or validity of ideas occurs.


Level/Stage 5: Synthesis

Level or Stage 5 critical thinking skills begin to ask “what if…?”, to predict future events or actions, and to make deductions based on the evidence combined with prior knowledge. In addition, old knowledge gets reorganized to use new information and ideas in order to create new, original thoughts and ideas. Examples of stage 5 critical thinking consist of: taking a basic recipe and adding your own ingredients to produce a recipe that’s more to your liking, or combining bits and pieces or other peoples’ theories to create your own original theory on, say, current events or social issues.


Level/Stage 6: Evaluation

Level or stage 6 critical thinking skills assess other peoples’ ideas and thoughts, to determine on an individual basis, whether they have validity or worth before weighing one’s options or offering advice based on the new information. In other words, the credibility of the information and the sources is decided before any further action is taken. Examples of stage 6 critical skills add in the ability to discuss the merits and disadvantages of specific events, actions, ideas or bodies of thought and the ability to provide constructive criticism or critiques. 



The progression from the simple acquisition of knowledge to the ability to apply systematic analysis to any new thoughts, ideas and information is a slow, arduous process. It’s  a process that takes several year years and a lot of practice to develop. Learning critical thinking is well worth the time and effort to learn as well as to teach students. Once children get into high school they should be beginning to use many of these critical thinking skills. They should definitely be able to use all of these skill upon graduation so that they can be critical thinkers once they start college or begin their path in life out in the real world after high school.

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One Response to “The Six Levels of Critical Thinking Skills”
  1. M McLeon Says...

    On September 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Awesome Info

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