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Practical Thinking: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Taught by

Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Information Technology, and Literacy and has a master's in counseling psychology and business administration.

Practical thinking involves adapting to your environment or modifying your environment to fit your needs, in order for you to achieve a goal. Learn more about practical thinking from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.


Suppose that you are an undergraduate psychology student in a statistics course. You are having a hard time understanding linear correlation and linear regression. You need to have at least a basic understanding of these topics by the end of next week, which is when you take your midterm exam. You know that you learn best when you are presented with auditory information. You decide to ask more questions during class time, ask your study group to discuss these topics in more detail, and turn your class notes into a game of Jeopardy so that you can retain more information. This is an example of using practical thinking.

Practical thinking is defined as considering ways to adapt to your environment, or changing your environment to fit you, so that you are able to pursue a goal. Practical sense is sometimes referred to as street smarts or common sense. Practical thinking is not concerned with gathering additional information or analyzing what you already know in multiple ways. It is concerned with taking the knowledge that you already have and effectively using it to solve problems in the real-world. In other words, practical knowledge is not concerned with gaining new knowledge, but rather using or applying knowledge to guide some action.

If you have good practical thinking skills, you are able to:

  • Manage your own thinking process
  • Adapt to situations
  • Be open to other options
  • Have flexibility in the way that you approach problems
  • Know how to get along with and talk to others
  • Apply knowledge or information that you have previously learned to solve real-world problems


Let's look at the example above. Your goal is to better understand the concepts of linear regression and linear correlation so that you can pass your midterm. In order to successfully remember these concepts, you decided to ask more questions (adapt to the environment), ask your study group to discuss these topics in more detail (changing the environment to fit your needs), and turn your class notes into a game of Jeopardy (changing your environment to fit your needs). These are all adaptations that you made in order to achieve your goal of passing the midterm.

Other examples of practical thinking include:

  • You need to remember the lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner for your theatre performance Friday. You are a visual learner. You decide to print the lyrics on notecards and practice them every day until the performance.
  • Being able to use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the length of a side of a triage when the lengths of the other two sides are given.
  • Your parents built you a treehouse, but it is too tall for you to reach it without help. You ask your parents to build you ladder so that you can reach your treehouse.

Lesson Summary

Practical thinking refers to thinking in terms of how you can modify yourself or your environment to reach an important goal. People who are good practical thinkers are able to apply what they know to real-world problems. An example of practical thinking is a visual learner who uses visual aids to reach his or her goal of obtaining a passing grade on a final exam.

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