With four quintels aboard, we were now ready to leave. The skipper saw mares’ tails in the north.
I wonder what quintels are? I think maybe it’s a sea term, a word that means perhaps the weight aboard. Yes maybe it’s how much fish they had aboard. [So you think it was fish?] I think fish or maybe something they had found in the water but I think fish more because of the word “catch.” [Why were they worried about the mares’ tails?] I’m not sure. Mares’ tails, let me see, mares are horses but horses are not going to be in the water. The mares’ tails are in the north. Here farmers watch the north for bad weather, so maybe the fishermen do the same thing. Yeah, I think that’s it, it’s a cloud formation which could mean strong winds and hail or something which I think could be dangerous if you were in a boat and had a lot of weight aboard. [Any questions?] No.
They were finished with their shopping and were ready to go home. [What did they have aboard?] Quintels. [What are quintels?] I don’t know. [Why were they worried about the mares’ tails?] There were a group of horses on the street and they were afraid they would attack the car. [Any questions?] No.
Stephen is successful in his efforts to incorporate the new information into an evolving interpretation. From the outset Stephen acknowledges that he does not know the meaning of quintel and seeks a resolution of this unknown. He derives a meaning consistent with his evolving interpretations and with the textual evidence. In his attempt to understand the expression mares’ tails he first acknowledges that he does not know the meaning of the expression. Thence, he establishes what he does know from the background knowledge (mares are horses, horses are not going to be in the water, there is nothing around except sky and water, farmers watch the north for bad weather) and textual information (the men are on the bay, they have things aboard, the mares’ tails are in the north) and inferences he has previously made (the men are in a boat, they are fishing). He integrates this knowledge into a comparison between the concerns of Alberta farmers with which he is familiar, and what he takes to be analogous concerns of fishermen. On seeing the pertinence of this analogy he draws the conclusion that the mares’ tails must be a cloud formation foreboding inclement weather. He claims support for his conclusion in the fact that it would explain the skipper’s concern for the mares’ tails, indicating that he did not lose sight of the overall task of understanding the story.
Colleen maintains her original interpretation but does not incorporate all the new textual information into it. She works with the information on the men’s leaving and the mares’ tails, but appears to ignore or remain vague about other information. For example, she says the cargo was comprised of quintels but indicates no effort to determine what these things are. She cites the fact that the men were ready to leave and suggests that they have finished their shopping, but does not attempt to explain the use of such words as skipper, cargo, and aboard in the context for shopping for clothes. She interprets mares’ tails as a group of horses the possibly would attack the men, but gives no account of what the horses might be doing on the street. Basically, she appears to grow tolerant of ambiguity and incompleteness in her interpretation.
Interestingly, each student believes that he or she has read the passage. The question becomes, what does it mean “to read” something? Comprehensive, legitimate critical thinking enables us to explore the meaning of the concept “to read” and to come to understand that there is a spectrum of quality of readings, some superficial and mechanical, some deep and thorough. Specifically, Colleen has scrambled to piece together meanings that have little relationship to the writer’s ideas. Colleen has “read” the passage but we can quickly see that the quality of her thinking lacks characteristics that we equate with sound reasoning, with critical thinking. She has been ineffective in thinking within the system of meanings inherent in what was said in the passage she tried to read. That her responses were inconsistent did not seem to disturb her, almost as if she had no sense of how to figure out what she was reading. The consequences for Colleen in this episode of thinking are minimal.
However, consider how vulnerable she will be outside school, when much more than grades or teacher approval is riding on her ability to think effectively in other systems, such as health care, parenting, upgrading job skills or becoming a proficient consumer.
On the other hand, Stephen has “read” the passage by means of critical reasoning, effectively decoding not only the words but the writer’s thoughts. He has taken the initiative to reconstruct in his mind as much as he can of the logic of the images and concepts that the writer conveyed through the system of language. Stephen also explored the implications of his ideas and was clear about what he understood and failed to understand. He demonstrated intellectual perseverance in striving to make sense when struggling with difficult passages. He expected to make sense of the passage, to grasp the author’s ideas, and finally he did. These habits, traits and abilities are among those we find in individuals for whom critical thinking is a comprehensive, substantial system of thought embedded, ideally, in every aspect of their lives. Although Colleen and Stephen have each “read” the passage, a useful distinction can be drawn between “critical reading” and “uncritical reading.”
Most reading is performed at the lower end of the spectrum in school today. Very little instruction is given in the thinking skills that critical readers use. Colleen will only be able to improve with professional assistance, that is, with instruction that helps her assess her thinking using intellectual standards and a sense of the elements of thought. She needs help in learning how to think through the elements of a problem. Of course, instruction alone is insufficient. She will also need to apply her will and acquire self-discipline. She will need extensive practice and expectations placed on her effort.
As we stretch ourselves to develop our bodies we naturally feel some physical stress. So, too, do we feel intellectual stress as we stretch our minds to develop our thinking. Students must learn intellectual perseverance, intellectual responsibility, intellectual integrity to develop true intellectual “fitness.” This is a lifetime process that merely begins in school. Most students are not well informed about the consequences of their uncritical thinking habits. It is likely that no one has presented these ideas to them so that they realistically grasp the possibility of intellectual development. Let’s now look at two student written responses and examine the quality of the thinking displayed, keeping in mind the implications for the students’ future effectiveness.
Are We Hitting the Target,
Assessing Student Thinking in Writing?
The Assignment: The students in Ms. Tamari’s 8th grade class were asked to write a paragraph in which they were to explain what the most important characteristics of a “friend” are and why they are most important. Here are the written responses of two students, Susan and Carl.
A friend is someone who cares a lot about you, who likes to be with you, and who helps you out when you get in trouble. The most important characteristics of a friend are loyalty, helpfulness, and honesty. First, it’s important for a friend to be loyal because you want to depend on your friend. If someone is not loyal that person may turn against you, especially if she meets someone he or she likes better than you. Second, it’s important for a friend to be helpful, because often a person needs help and if you have no friends it can be real hard to feel so alone. And finally, it’s important for a friend to be honest because very few people will tell you something about yourself that you don’t want to hear. An honest friend will try to help you improve, even though she knows it may hurt your feelings. It’s okay to hear some things from a friend because you know that she isn’t trying to hurt you.
Susan is basically doing a good job critically analyzing which characteristics are desirable in a friend. First of all, it is clear that she understands the issue. First she clarifies the concept of a friend. Then she asserts three characteristics of a good friend. Then she takes each one in order and gives good reasons in support of each of them. Her writing is clear, relevant to the issue, systematic, well-reasoned, and reflects deep thinking for her age.
Now let’s look at the writing of Carl.
The most important thing is to have a lot of friends who like to do the things you like to do. Then you can go places and have fun. I mostly like other boys for my friends because they like sports like me. Girls sometimes play sports too but not as good as boys. I like to play baseball, football, and basketball. Sometimes I like to play Hockey. There are no good places to play in my neighborhood and sometimes my mother makes me come in too early. She sometimes makes me very mad because she screws up my life. All she ever wants me to do is work around the house. I don’t think she knows anything about having friends. Maybe if she had played sports when she was little she’d let me play more and not just think about work, work, and more work.
Almost all of Carl’s writing is irrelevant to the issue of what are the most desirable characteristics of a friend. He seems simply to be writing thoughts down as they occur to him in a stream of consciousness, in an associational way. Carl begins by confusing the question “What are the most important characteristics in a friend?” with “Is it important to know a lot of people who share pleasures with you?” He then moves to the question “Who do I like?” Then he moves to the question “What do I like to do?” and then on to “What’s wrong with my neighborhood?” The final question, “Why doesn’t my mother let me do what I want to do?” indicates that he has ended up far off course, yet it is unlikely that he realizes it. Until Carl learns to discipline his mind to stick to the question at hand, he will have trouble doing any quality thinking.
Learning to write out our thinking is one of the best ways to improve it. It goes without saying that excellence in writing requires excellence in thinking.
Writing requires that one systematize one’s thinking, arranging thought in a progression that makes the system of one’s thought accessible to others. When the writer’s thinking lacks a clear purpose, lacks focus, lacks documentation and logic, and standards by which to judge the merit of the ideas, these flaws are revealed in the written work.
Writing, then, which is excellent is excellently thought through and is produced by someone with definite standards for both thinking and writing. (See the chapters: “Why Students and Teachers Don’t Reason Well” and “Pseudo Critical Thinking in the Educational Establishment.”) It is obvious as we read the responses of Carl and Susan that each has a very different understanding of what is well-thought-out thinking and writing, critical and uncritical thinking and writing. The consequences for Carl’s uncritical thinking are minimal in 8th grade, but how will he be affected when he demonstrates the same confusions on the job?
School instruction is focused on “subject matter.” We usually, but wrongfully, think of school subjects as little more than masses of facts and definitions to be memorized. We don’t often recognize that what is really important about school subjects is that they—when properly learned provide us raw materials upon which to practice thinking in a more proficient and insightful manner. They introduce us to new “systems” in which to think. As you read the next section, see if you can think of school subjects in this more illuminating and penetrating way.
Are We Hitting the Target?
Assessing Student Thinking in Academic Subjects.
Subject Matter, Especially in High School and College Courses
Though we often do not think of it this way, all subject matter — history, literature, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics — is part of a system of logically ordered parts. A historian studies a period and creates a “story” that puts events into meaningful patterns. In literature we study periods with their distinctive visions, their distinctive values, their distinctive modes of expression. One period is “romantic,” one is “classic,” one is “realist,” and so forth. Or we study the outlook of an author, the way he or she sees the world: Dickens, Austen, Hemingway, Faulkner. In geography we develop systems for dividing up the surface of the earth into continents, countries, climates. We develop organized, logical ways to look at the surface, especially the physical surface, of the earth. In geology, we use a system to arrange time into geological time periods, and correlate principal physical and biological features with those periods. In biology, we develop systems for making sense of multiple forms of living and pre-living things. In math, we develop systems — arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus — for dealing with the quantitative dimensions of the world.
Everywhere there are systems inherent in subject matter, networks of logically ordered parts functioning in relation to each other for a definite human purpose. Critical thinking, with its system-unlocking orientation, is the perfect set of tools to take command of the systems inherent in subject matter. It is perfect, that is, only if we understand what it is and how to use it. Most students, unfortunately, have never been introduced to critical thinking, so cannot systematically use it to guide and empower their learning. Most students try to learn what is in fact systematized, by randomly memorizing fragments of the system as if they had no relation to each other. Compare the two following students talking about studying history.
Anna: “I don’t really like history too much. There is too much to try to remember. And it’s all about olden times, with a lot of dates and different wars and people doing things we don’t do anymore. You learn about presidents and kings and what they did and about when things happened. History is all about the past. It’s boring and I never use it. How could you? Things are really different now. “
Carra: “We do it differently in Mrs Brown’s class. Do you know that we’re all part of history? For example, in my mind I remember all of my past as a kind of story I tell myself. That’s how I remember things and that’s also how I figure things out. Think about it. Whenever you talk about yourself, you’re like a historian trying to help people figure things out about you. Everyone is really interested in their own history and in the history of the people they know. That’s what gossip is all about. Also the news. It’s like the history of yesterday. In her class we talk about how the history writer puts together the story he writes.
We also look at how the story might be told differently, I mean ‘cause what we read is only a tiny part of what the writer knows, and what the writer knows is only a tiny part of what actually happened. You have to look at it from different points of view or else you don’t have a chance of figuring out what most likely really happened. We are learning how to tell the difference between “facts” and how different people filter and interpret the facts depending on their own interests. We also try to notice what is left out of the history stories we read. Mrs. Brown says we are learning to think like history writers do and face the problems that they face. I think its fun to try to figure out history . . . how to tell a story in the most honest way, and how to see when people twist a story to make themselves look good.”
Anna and Carra, in their reactions to history, model the distinction between the way subjects have traditionally been taught ( as a lot of stuff to remember for a test) and the way they should be taught (as a way to figure things out). The traditional student never gets the real point of the subject and hence does not transfer what she learns to the “real” world. By teaching history in a critical manner students can readily transfer what they learn to “life-centered” situations. They can improve their own everyday historical thinking.
Critical thinking is valuable, of course, not only in school but in the world beyond school as well. If we are teaching properly, our students not only learn how to apply critical thinking effectively to their reading, writing, and subject-matter learning, they also begin to apply it to their everyday lives. The wonderful result is they not only reason historically about what is in their history textbook, for example, they also begin to reason much better about the “historical” issues in their daily life, as Carra is doing above. They not only reason scientifically about what is in their science textbook, they also begin to reason scientifically about the ‘scientific” questions in their daily life. They not only hear about ethical principles when talking about characters in stories in their literature class, they also begin to use ethical reasoning when dealing with the ethical issues embedded in their lives.
Indeed, if we do our job correctly, students begin to discover that all the kinds of reasoning that they learn to do at school have application in the “real” world. They not only start to talk about and value reasoning in school, they also begin to discover how actually to do it, how to realistically and effectively to apply intellectual standards to their own thought in virtually every context of their lives. The result is that students, for the first time in their lives, begin to evaluate their own thinking and do so in a way that is increasingly disciplined and objective. Let’s look at three examples of college students beginning to discover the value of applying intellectual standards to their own work and thinking.
Mandy: “I am often inconsistent. The most difficult aspect of my weakness is my attempt at achieving consistency between that of word and deed. That is, I use a double standard. I often say one thing and do another.”
Kristin: “This semester I have learned how to organize my thinking through critical thinking. In organizing my thinking logically I have learned to break down my thought processes down into specific parts. By breaking my thought process down into specific parts I can see some of my strengths and weaknesses. When I do not organize my thought logically, my writing often becomes trivial, irrelevant and vague.”
Laurie: “It is important to recognize key concepts when one thinks. If I need to figure out a problem and do not understand the key concepts, I will not be able to come to a logical conclusion. I am more and more aware of the need to pay attention to key concepts. One particular example occurred this winter when I went snowboarding for the first time.
The relevant concepts of snowboarding are: one needs to torque the body, the back leg is your anchor, and the edges of the board are used to slow down and in turn control the speed of the board. My friend explained to me that it usually takes a whole day to learn to snowboard, but because I paid close attention to the concepts and kept them carefully in mind, I was able to learn quickly. Most students do not realize that concepts are important in learning. In fact, I think that most students don’t know what concepts are. I certainly didn’t.”
These examples demonstrate that some students are prepared to take advantage of critical thinking instruction, though others are less ready. The teacher’s challenge, however, is to meet the student’s needs and respond effectively with appropriate instruction.
Identifying the Target:
Critical Thinking in the Workplace
With accelerating change and the increasing complexity of problems facing us at the dawn of the 21st Century, we are striving to compete within the new global economic realities. John Sculley, CEO of Apple Computer, Inc. reported to President-elect Clinton in December of 1992:
Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and there are several different definitions which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.
Critical thinking was described by Richard W. Paul as a movement in two waves (1994). The "first wave" of critical thinking is often referred to as a 'critical analysis' that is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."
In the term critical thinking, the word critical, (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic and implies a critique; it identifies the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern".
Traditionally, critical thinking has been variously defined as:
- "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion"
- "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"
- "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- "purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based"
- "includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs"
- the skill and propensity to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (McPeck, 1981)
- disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking (Paul, 1989, p. 214)
- thinking about one's thinking in a manner designed to organize and clarify, raise the efficiency of, and recognize errors and biases in one's own thinking. Critical thinking is not 'hard' thinking nor is it directed at solving problems (other than 'improving' one's own thinking). Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximizing the rationality of the thinker. One does not use critical thinking to solve problems—one uses critical thinking to improve one's process of thinking.
- "an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation"
- the ability to think clearly about what to do or what to believe.
Contemporary critical thinking scholars have expanded these traditional definitions to include qualities, concepts, and processes such as creativity, imagination, discovery, reflection, empathy, connecting knowing, feminist theory, subjectivity, ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. Some definitions of critical thinking exclude these subjective practices.
Logic and rationality
Main article: Logic and rationality
The ability to reason logically is a fundamental skill of rational agents, hence the study of the form of correct argumentation is relevant to the study of critical thinking.
"First wave" logical thinking consisted of understanding the connections between two concepts or points in thought. It followed a philosophy where the thinker was removed from the train of thought and the connections and the analysis of the connect was devoid of any bias of the thinker. Kerry Walters describes this ideology in his essay Beyond Logicism in Critical Thinking, "A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective. This model of thinking has become so entrenched in conventional academic wisdom that many educators accept it as canon" (Walters, 1994, p. 1). The adoption of these principals parallel themselves with the increasing reliance on quantitative understanding of the world.
In the ‘second wave’ of critical thinking, as defined by Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994, p. 1 ), many authors moved away from the logocentric mode of critical thinking that the ‘first wave’ privileged, especially in institutions of higher learning. Walters summarizes logicism as "the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking" (1994, p. 1).
"A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective." (Walters, 1994, p. 1) As the ‘second wave’ took hold, scholars began to take a more inclusive view of what constituted as critical thinking. Rationality and logic are still widely accepted in many circles as the primary examples of critical thinking.
Deduction, Abduction and Induction
Main article: logical reasoning
There are three types of logical reasoning Informally, two kinds of logical reasoning can be distinguished in addition to formal deduction: induction and abduction.e.g. X is human and all humans have a face so X has a face.
- Induction is drawing a conclusion from a pattern that is guaranteed by the strictness of the structure to which it applies.
- Abduction is drawing a conclusion using a heuristic which is likely but not certain given some foreknowledge.
Critical thinking and rationality
Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994) argues that rationality demands more than just logical or traditional methods of problem solving and analysis or what he calls the "calculus of justification" but also considers "cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight" (p. 63). These "functions" are focused on discovery, on more abstract processes instead of linear, rules-based approaches to problem solving. The linear and non-sequential mind must both be engaged in the rationalmind.
The ability to critically analyze an argument – to dissect structure and components, thesis and reasons – is important. But so is the ability to be flexible and consider non-traditional alternatives and perspectives. These complementary functions are what allow for critical thinking a practice encompassing imagination and intuition in cooperation with traditional modes of deductive inquiry.
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition. According to Reynolds (2011), an individual or group engaged in a strong way of critical thinking gives due consideration to establish for instance:
- Evidence through reality
- Context skills to isolate the problem from context
- Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
- Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
- Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand
In addition to possessing strong critical-thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
- Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
- Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
- Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
- Recognize unstated assumptions and values
- Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
- Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
- Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
- Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
- Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
- Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
- Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Habits or traits of mind
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
According to a definition analysis by Kompf & Bond (2001), critical thinking involves problem solving, decision making, metacognition, rationality, rational thinking, reasoning, knowledge, intelligence and also a moral component such as reflective thinking. Critical thinkers therefore need to have reached a level of maturity in their development, possess a certain attitude as well as a set of taught skills.
Edward M. Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:
- An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
- Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
- Some skill in applying those methods.
Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
The Critical Thinking project at Human Science Lab, London, is involved in scientific study of all major educational system in prevalence today to assess how the systems are working to promote or impede critical thinking.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. A measure of critical thinking dispositions is the California Measure of Mental Motivation and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory.
John Dewey is one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual learner, the community, and the entire democracy.
Critical thinking is significant in academics due to being significant in learning. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process of internalization, in the construction of basic ideas, principles, and theories inherent in content. And critical thinking is significant in the learning process of application, whereby those ideas, principles, and theories are implemented effectively as they become relevant in learners' lives.
Each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject-specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
Historically, teaching of critical thinking focused only on logical procedures such as formal and informal logic. This emphasized to students that good thinking is equivalent to logical thinking. However, a second wave of critical thinking, urges educators to value conventional techniques, meanwhile expanding what it means to be a critical thinker. In 1994, Kerry Walters compiled a conglomeration of sources surpassing this logical restriction to include many different authors’ research regarding connected knowing, empathy, gender-sensitive ideals, collaboration, world views, intellectual autonomy, morality and enlightenment. These concepts invite students to incorporate their own perspectives and experiences into their thinking.
In the English and Welsh school systems, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCRexam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full Advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There used to also be an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills.
From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification.
OCRexam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
In Qatar, critical thinking was offered by AL-Bairaq which is an outreach, non-traditional educational program that targets high school students and focuses on a curriculum based on STEM fields. The idea behind AL-Bairaq is to offer high school students the opportunity to connect with the research environment in the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Faculty members train and mentor the students and help develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.[not in citation given]
In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect or values.
In a more recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 341 quasi- or true-experimental studies, all of which used some form of standardized critical thinking measure to assess the outcome variable. The authors describe the various methodological approaches and attempt to categorize the differing assessment tools, which include standardized tests (and second-source measures), tests developed by teachers, tests developed by researchers, and tests developed by teachers who also serve the role as the researcher. The results emphasized the need for exposing students to real-world problems and the importance in encouraging open dialogue within a supportive environment. Effective strategies for teaching critical thinking are thought to be possible in a wide variety of educational settings.
Importance in academia
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
 However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Critical thinking skills can be used to help nurses during the assessment process. Through the use of critical thinking, nurses can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can help nurses problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can also engage their critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. This practice standard is even part of some regulatory organizations such as the College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006). It requires nurses to engage in Reflective Practice and keep records of this continued professional development for possible review by the College.
Critical thinking is also considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
Critical thinking is used as a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
Critical thinking in computer-mediated communication
The advent and rising popularity of online courses has prompted some to ask if computer-mediated communication (CMC) promotes, hinders, or has no effect on the amount and quality of critical thinking in a course (relative to face-to-face communication). There is some evidence to suggest a fourth, more nuanced possibility: that CMC may promote some aspects of critical thinking but hinder others. For example, Guiller et al. (2008) found that, relative to face-to-face discourse, online discourse featured more justifications, while face-to-face discourse featured more instances of students expanding on what others had said. The increase in justifications may be due to the asynchronous nature of online discussions, while the increase in expanding comments may be due to the spontaneity of ‘real time’ discussion. Newman et al. (1995) showed similar differential effects. They found that while CMC boasted more important statements and linking of ideas, it lacked novelty. The authors suggest that this may be due to difficulties participating in a brainstorming-style activity in an asynchronous environment. Rather, the asynchrony may promote users to put forth “considered, thought out contributions.”
Researchers assessing critical thinking in online discussion forums often employ a technique called Content Analysis, where the text of online discourse (or the transcription of face-to-face discourse) is systematically coded for different kinds of statements relating to critical thinking. For example, a statement might be coded as “Discuss ambiguities to clear them up” or “Welcoming outside knowledge” as positive indicators of critical thinking. Conversely, statements reflecting poor critical thinking may be labeled as “Sticking to prejudice or assumptions” or “Squashing attempts to bring in outside knowledge.” The frequency of these codes in CMC and face-to-face discourse can be compared to draw conclusions about the quality of critical thinking.
Searching for evidence of critical thinking in discourse has roots in a definition of critical thinking put forth by Kuhn (1991), which places more emphasis on the social nature of discussion and knowledge construction. There is limited research on the role of social experience in critical thinking development, but there is some evidence to suggest it is an important factor. For example, research has shown that 3- to 4-year-old children can discern, to some extent, the differential creditability and expertise of individuals. Further evidence for the impact of social experience on the development of critical thinking skills comes from work that found that 6- to 7-year-olds from China have similar levels of skepticism to 10- and 11-year-olds in the United States. If the development of critical thinking skills was solely due to maturation, it is unlikely we would see such dramatic differences across cultures.
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