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Clean Thinking, Problem Solving

The 3-2-1 Model for Critical Thinking

I have a simplified model for critical thinking to share with you.

(If you are interested in more complex models, you can check out The Foundation for Critical Thinking, Pearson’s RED model, or others.)

We define critical thinking as analyzing information prior to making a judgment. Therefore, at its most elemental, my version of a critical thinking model is simply this:

Information –> Analysis –> Judgment

What I love about this simplified model is that each level allows multiple branches. The exploration of those branches makes critical thinking what it is.

You apply 3 questions to the information you’re receiving, 2 questions to analysis of that information, and 1 specific question to come to judgment on the particular issue in question. I call it the 3-2-1 Model for Critical Thinking. I love the more complex models and geek out over them, but for day to day, practical applications and decision-making – especially when time becomes a factor in getting to judgment – I think simplifying many nuanced questions and reducing them to the ones in the 3-2-1 model allows for more accessible application of critical thinking in our everyday lives.

So how does this simple 3-2-1 Model of Critical Thinking work?

INFORMATION (n= 3 questions)

When taking in information, you need to evaluate it based on these three parameters:

  1. Accuracy – can we validate the information and call it true?
  2. Relevance – does the information have bearing on the problem or question?
  3. Logic – does it simply make sense, or not?

ANALYSIS (n= 2 questions)

If you are able to confirm that the information is accurate, relevant, and logical, then you can proceed to analyze it. Specifically:

  1. Interpret the information – decide that it means something in particular. Note that you DECIDE what something means, which means you can decide to apply totally different meanings. This is the process for not boxing yourself into a thought or series of thoughts. Change it up, see what happens.
  2. Apply principles – overlay your assumptions onto the information. We all have assumptions about information. Just make sure you are aware of the foundational principles you happen to be applying. You bring a viewpoint or perspective to the table. Two people with the same viewpoint can apply different principles and therefore have different assumptions, while two people with different viewpoints may have the same assumptions about the information.

JUDGMENT (n= 1 question, specific to the issue at hand)

Once you are able to verify facts, and you have given them meaning within the context of your assumptions and perspective, then, you make a judgment.

  1. Judgment is only your conclusion, so this depends on the question or problem.

For example:

We judge whether or not the information and analysis confirms a hypothesis you wanted to test. The judgment is either yes or no.

We judge whether the information and analysis supports a particular action in a situation you’re in. The judgment is a decision to act or not, and if you act, which action will be taken.

We judge whether the information and analysis answers a question. The judgment is positive, negative, or neutral.

You can use the model below for a guide.

critical thinking 321 model

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