Paul L. Caron

Thursday, June 8, 2017

WSJ:  Improvement In Student Critical Thinking Skills Often Lags At Prestigious Schools

Wall Street Journal, Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills:

Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016 (full results).

At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.

Some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished at arrival but soak up a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum.


The test has detractors. It is hard to completely untangle cause and effect in something as complicated as improving critical-reasoning skills and as broad as a college education. And students don’t always try their hardest when they take the exam, since there is little at stake for them.

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Improvement, so a relative measure? What about absolute? Perhaps some kids just max out earlier than others, and those that do tend to have an advantage in getting in to certain schools?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 8, 2017 10:46:11 AM

"The test has detractors." No kidding. College level assessment of learning is junk science. Just because you can give a test, this doesn't mean you are measuring anything.

That said, critical thinking has seemingly disappeared across all age spectrums.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jun 9, 2017 5:03:49 AM

Students admitted to "prestigious " institutions probably already had very good critical thinking skills; therefore no surprise that they didn't show much advancement.

Posted by: sullivan2day | Jun 9, 2017 9:20:47 AM

I think the folks conducting these studies don't know how to measure critical thinking skills. Whatever it is they're testing may have nothing to do with critical thinking.

Posted by: Critical thinking | Jun 11, 2017 10:51:40 AM

What is the point of college if there is no improvement in critical thinking?
The real story, though, is those colleges in which critical thinking scores went down! That is amazing.

Posted by: Biff | Jun 12, 2017 3:49:25 PM