Critical Thinking Skills: A Comparison of Doctoral- and Master's-Level Students
Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J., College Student Journal
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.
The CCTST was developed following a 46-member American Philosophical Association's Delphi consensus conceptualization of critical thinking (American Philosophical Association [APA], 1990). The CCTST items encapsulate the major core skills identified in the theory of critical thinking advanced in the Delphi Report (APA, 1990). Scores from the 1989-1990 validation study of the CCTST yielded classical theory alpha reliability coefficients ranging from .68 to .70 (Facione, 1990c). For the current inquiry, scores pertaining to the CCTST had a classical theory alpha reliability coefficient of .70.
Results and Discussion
The Shapiro-Wilk test (Shapiro & Wilk, 1965; Shapiro, Wilk, & Chen, 1968) did not indicate that the distribution of CCTST scores was non-normal for either the Master's- (W = .98, p > .05) or doctoral-level (W = .97, p > .05) students, thereby justifying the use of the parametric independent t-test for comparing critical thinking skills between the two sets of students.
The independent t-test revealed that doctoral-level students (M= 19.68, SD = 3.93), p > .05) had statistically significantly (t = -3.54, p < .001) higher scores on the CCTST than did Master's-level students (M= 16.24, SD = 3.70). The effect size, as measured by Cohen's (1988) d statistic, was .92. Using Cohen's (1988) criteria, this effect size is extremely large.
The fact that doctoral-level students have significantly higher levels of critical thinking skills is somewhat encouraging because it suggests that critical thinking skills are related to academic achievement, at least to the extent that doctoral-level students represent more academically-motivated students and academically-successful learners than do their Master's-level counterparts. As such, this finding is consistent with the literature that has consistently noted a significant association between critical thinking skills and disposition and various measures of academic performance (Behrens, 1996; Facione et al., 1998).
Moreover, the present results indicate that students with the highest levels of critical thinking skills are more predisposed to being doctoral students, thereby suggesting that the CCTST has potential as a predictor of doctoral-level aptitude. Furthermore, studies using qualitative techniques (e.g., phenomenological, ethnographic, case study) should seek to determine the role that critical thinking skills play in the formation and promotion of doctoral-level motivation and aptitude.
Because doctoral-level students typically take more research courses than do their Master's-level counterparts, the present results support Collins and Onwuegbuzie's (2000) conclusion of a bidirectional relationship between critical thinking skills and research skills. Indeed, Collins and Onwuegbuzie (2000, p. 14) hypothesized that
As students improve their critical thinking skills, their ability to understand the research process increases, as manifested by tasks such as being able to read, to understand, to synthesize, to evaluate, and to apply research articles in their fields. At the same time, as these same students improve their research skills, their critical thinking skills further improve, which subsequently enhance their research competency, and so on, until both critical thinking skills and research skills are maximized.
In any case, the current results add incremental validity to the critical thinking construct, further justifying more research in this area. As recommended by Collins and Onwuegbuzie (2000, pp. 14-15), future research should examine "the critical thinking abilities of students as they progress from their first research methodology course (i.e., novice researcher), to the completion of their second or third research course (i.e., advanced beginner), to the completion of their doctoral degrees (i.e., competent researcher), to the publication of their first few research articles (i.e., proficient researcher), and to the publication of several large-scale studies (i.e., expert)." Future investigations also should compare doctoral-level students across different programs and academic disciplines. These and other studies in this area would facilitate a better understanding of the role of critical thinking skills among graduate students.
(1) Address correspondence to Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, 31698 or e-mail (TONWUEGB@ VALDOSTA.EDU)
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ANTHONY J. ONWUEGBUZIE Valdosta State University (1)…
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Publication information: Article title: Critical Thinking Skills: A Comparison of Doctoral- and Master's-Level Students. Contributors: Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. - Author. Journal title: College Student Journal. Volume: 35. Issue: 3 Publication date: September 2001. Page number: 477+. © 2009 Project Innovation (Alabama). COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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