How important are critical thinking skills? College professors and business leaders complain that their students and employees lack these skills. Developers of the ACT and the SAT are reacting to these concerns by altering the current  forms of the tests, so that they l emphasize mastery of critical thinking skills.

Available samples of the new SAT indicate that the “plug and chug” method of answering multiple choice questions math questions will not be enough to attain a high score. One section of the new format will disallow calculator use.  Instead, students will have to  apply concepts rather than perform simple computation of formulas .Furthermore, both the ACT and the SAT are placing more emphasis on critical thinking for the essays.  Both exams will require students to read texts (some of which are historical documents) and then analyze the writer’s methods of achieving the argument. In addition the other sections of both exams  will include charts and graphs that a student must analyze.

But how and where are students learning these skills? One way of helping students to develop critical thinking is through writing. Providing students with opportunities to produce informational writing that analyzes, criticizes, or explains helps them engage in “”meta-cognition” or thinking about thinking.

A recent abstract in “Life Sciences Education indicates, “As an instructional method, writing has long been perceived as a way to improve critical thinking.”  Students enrolled in a general biology laboratory course who wrote about the experiment outperformed those in the same course who were in the “non-writing” group.  “Results indicated that the writing group significantly improved critical thinking skills whereas the non-writing group did not. Specifically, analysis and inference skills increased significantly in the writing group but not the non-writing group.” The results of this study demonstrated that general education biology students will be better prepared to solve problems as engaged and productive citizens.   Thus, writing in every subject can provide students with valuable opportunities to sharpen their critical thinking skills.

Laura Maniglia