Academic journal article College Student Journal

Assessing University Students' General and Specific Critical Thinking

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Assessing University Students' General and Specific Critical Thinking

Article excerpt

The study aims at examining the validity of a measure of critical thinking and at verifying the concept of general critical thinking. Components of this concept comprise cognitive skills, motivational disposition, behavioral habit, and ideological belief. They correspond to eight measures of the critical thinking components of 577 university students. Results show that the eight measures were reliable according to latent trait models for dichotomous and graded data and reflected a common factor of general critical thinking, and had consistent relationships with a set of background characteristics, including years and fields of study. They also indicate that each of the eight components contributes significantly to general critical thinking. Furthermore, they demonstrate convergence in the predictive validity of alternative scores of general critical thinking. Students of humanities and social sciences were consistently higher on various scores of general critical thinking based on different sets of weights applied to the eight components.


Fostering students' critical thinking has been an increasingly important goal for university education (Macalister, 1999). It has received high ranking among faculty (Browne & Litwin, 1987). Obviously, assessment of students' critical thinking is essential for tracking its development. For this purpose, instruments have been available in the West (Facione et al., 1998; Watson & Glaser, 1994). However, these instruments require modification and adaptation when applied to countries where English is not the primary language and whose cultures, including values and lifestyles, are remarkably different from that of the West. It appears that an individual's reading skills, especially for a second language, interfere with assessment of critical thinking (Ennis & Norris, 1990). Areas for modification include broadening the conceptualization of critical thinking from one concentrating on skills to one also incorporating dispositions, beliefs, and habits essential for assessment in the educational setting (Ennis & Norris, 1990). This broader assessment of critical thinking necessarily raises the issue of the weighting of critical thinking components in order to identify general critical thinking. This is the task of validation and calibration for the measure of critical thinking. The present study performs such a task with a sample of university students in Hong Kong. It adapts and develops eight measures to tap a student's critical thinking skills, dispositions, beliefs, and habits and then assesses the student's general critical thinking with alternative weighting procedures in order to determine the validity of the measures.

The-exclusive emphasis on the cognitive skill component of critical thinking has been contentious because it ignores other important components (Keeley & Browne, 1986). As such, students appear to fail in their practice of critical thinking, including identifying ambiguity and hidden values in written sources. Moreover, more critical reviews of critical thinking suggest that the assessment needs to incorporate measures of dispositions, beliefs, and behaviors that are stable and desirable to counter faulty ideologies and myths (Brookfield, 1987; Halpern, 1998; Moon, 1999). These pragmatic and critical remarks point to the need for more adequate assessment that is general enough to reflect a student's skill, motivational disposition, habit, and belief integral to critical thinking. Further to this, it is necessary to demonstrate these different components form a coherent measure. This is the objective of the present study.

Conceptualization of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking suggests an integration of being critical and the thinking process. However, many previous conceptualizations tend to focus exclusively on thinking and neglect its essential qualifier, critical. …

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