Critical Thinking Skills: A Comparison of Doctoral- and Master's-Level Students

Article excerpt

This study compared the critical thinking skills of Masters- and doctoral-level students. Participants were 101 Master's- and 19 doctoral-level students at a southeastern university. These students were administered the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST), a multiple-choice test that targets core critical thinking skills regarded to be essential elements in a college education.

Findings revealed that the doctoral-level students obtained statistically significantly higher overall critical thinking skills than did the Master's-level students (t = -3.54, p < .001). The effect size (d = 0.92) associated with this difference was extremely large. Implications are discussed.


An important goal of higher education is to develop and to enhance critical thinking skills (McBride & Reed, 1998). Indeed, the Association of American Colleges (1985) advocated strongly that students learn critical analytical skills, abstract logical thinking skills, inquiry skills, and the like. Additionally, the National Institute of Education (1984, p. 43) recommended that university-level curricula promote "the development of capacities of analysis, problem solving, communication, and synthesis."

Despite these objectives, relatively little is known about the critical thinking skills of college students. Moreover, studies that have been undertaken in this area have tended to involve undergraduate students. That is, scant research exists in the area of critical thinking among graduate students. Recently, however, Facione, Facione, Blohm, Howard, and Giancario (1998) found critical thinking skills to be significantly positively related to scores on the verbal, quantitative, and analytic portions of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as to GRE total scores, with correlations ranging from .58 to .72.

More recently, Collins and Onwuegbuzie (2000) reported significant relationships between overall critical thinking skills and achievement in a graduate-level research methodology course at both the midterm (r = .34, p < .001) and final (r = .26, p < .01) stages. Collins and Onwuegbuzie recommended that researchers in the future compare students with varying levels of expertise in research. Interestingly, Master's- and doctoral-level students often have different levels of experience with research methodology. Although both groups of students can be considered to represent novice researchers, because most doctoral students earn a Master's- or specialist-level degree prior to enrolling in their doctoral programs, doctoral students typically have more research experience than do their counterparts.

Thus, the purpose of this present investigation was to compare the critical thinking skills of Master's- and doctoral-level students. Because doctoral students are more academically-successful than are Master's students, and because critical thinking skills appear to be related to research skills (Collins & Onwuegbuzie, 2000), it was hypothesized that doctoral students have greater critical thinking skills than do Master's students.



Participants were 120 graduate students at a southeastern university, comprising 101 Master's- and 19 doctoral-level students. The majority of students was female for both the Master's- (86.1%) and doctoral-level (63.2%) groups.

Instruments and Procedure

Students were administered the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST; Facione, 1990a, 1990b, 1992). The CCTST is a 34-item, 4-option multiple-choice test that targets core critical thinking skills regarded to be essential elements in a college education. Moreover, the CCTST has been used effectively with graduate and professional school students (Facione et al., 1998). High scores on the scale (total = 34) indicate high critical thinking skills. The length of time necessary to administer the CCTST is 45 minutes. …