AS & A-Level
What is Critical Thinking?
Critical Thinking is a relatively new subject. It teaches students how to assess arguments and evidence by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, how to identify and describe a number of common flaws in arguments and how to construct logically structured arguments of their own. Another feature of the AS course is learning how to assess the credibility of witnesses by looking at conflicting accounts of the same incident and applying a number of criteria to establish who is most likely to be telling the truth, a useful skill for lawyers, journalists and members of the public deciding which politician to believe or advertiser to trust, if any!
Universities view Critical Thinking skills as valuable and some university entrance qualifications such as BMAT and UKCAT for medicine and LNAT for law include an element of critical thinking, so students who have studied AS Level at school are likely to find the tests less daunting.
Some universities value it so highly that they make offers dependent on passing it. Having an extra AS creates a good impression and extra UCAS points can improve your chances. Perhaps most important, the skills you learn will improve the quality of thinking you apply to all your studies and to aspects of your everyday life such as decision making and media interpretation.
Details of AS Level Critical Thinking
AS Level Code H052
2 written examinations:
Unit F501: Introduction to Critical Thinking: 1 hour 30 minutes, worth 50% of AS. The first section asks you to analyse an argument and identify basic flaws and strengths in the evidence. The second asks you to assess how truthful claims made in a passage are likely to be.
Unit F502: Assessing and Developing Argument: 1 hour 30 minutes, multiple choice questions followed by short questions on analysis and evaluation of the arguments in a passage and then asking you to write well structured and convincing arguments of your own, worth 50% of AS.
Because it is fairly skills-based without a great deal of factual content to learn, Critical Thinking receives less teaching time than other AS levels, one hour per week, and shorter homework tasks are set in view of Year 12 students’ other commitments.
A Little More about Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking is similar to an intelligence test in which skills and practice are needed, while the amount of factual knowledge to be covered and memorised is less than for most other subjects, so revision is not burdensome. Some special terms for faults in reasoning need to be learnt, names of the components of the argument.
Critical Thinking is not easy. It requires deep thought and concentration, and is valued by universities because it trains the mind to look critically at evidence. Most students enjoy the subject, as the passages studied relate to current controversial arguments, there is plenty of discussion, and the long term benefits of learning to think clearly soon become self evident.
Further information about the course and types of examination questions is to be found on the OCR website, and feel free to come and discuss the course with Mrs Lee-Johnson.
Comments by Students of Critical Thinking at Kendrick
About AS level
I would definitely recommend taking it as it develops assessment skills needed for other subjects- particularly essay subjects (Charlotte)
It is good especially for humanities because it gives you a lot of skills you can apply to sources and texts (Sally).
Do it as it is only one lesson a week but gives you valuable skills and an extra qualification! (Joanna)
Comments about Critical Thinking in General
It has helped me refine my way of thinking, tackle interesting and topical issues and prepare for entrance exams, e.g. BMAT (Sinead)
Over the course Critical Thinking exposes you to current affairs in an analytical approach I would not always adopt. The logical dissection of argument is extremely relevant to Law- which I intend to practise- so provides a useful foundation (Charlotte)
It helps you analyse scientific publications and papers and see the way the author tries to influence you. It is also good for maintaining the ability to write in proper sentences and paragraphs, which it can be easy to lose when only doing science subjects. (Katherine)
I can analyse poor reasoning now which is useful when following politics. (Megan)
It has helped me to recognise flaws more easily in the media so that I can argue against certain views more effectively. The ethical views I have learnt may help my future as a doctor (Natalie)
I really enjoyed the course and found the skills I learnt valuable. It really improved my knowledge of current affairs and helped me to understand human behaviour. Developed logic skills important in all three sciences (Helen)
It helps with thinking laterally (Hetty).
Not much content to learn compared with the rest (of subjects) (Chloe)
University attitudes to Critical Thinking
BMAT and UKCAT tests- critical thinking very helpful for quick recognition of flaws in arguments. Ethical theories helped broaden my answers to ethical questions in interview (Natalie, Medicine)
Critical thinking came up in my interview at Bristol- medical ethics (Helen)
As a result of the intense timed conditions of the LNAT test (for Law) I found myself under a great deal of pressure. However having learnt how to construct a cogent argument through CT, I found I was able to complete the test within the time limit (Isabel)
Nearly all the universities I applied to recommended it as a helpful source of preparation for studying Law. Cambridge in particular highlighted similar skills needed for their entrance Law test. (Charlotte)
Critical thinking revision
What is an argument?
- An attempt to persuade someone of a point of view by using reasoning. It is made up of three parts:
- Reason – a cause that makes something happen & answers the question ‘why…?’
- Conclusion – a result or judgement that has been caused by the reason. It doesn’t always mean the final point in a written passage.
- An element of persuasion – something that tries to influence you into believing or doing something.
DON’T BE MISLEAD – other forms of language can sometimes be included to confuse you:
- Opinion – a statement of what someone thinks or believes. It is not based on fact that can be tested.
- Assertion – an attempt to persuade but doesn’t include reasons. It is an opinion with an element of persuasion, e.g. ‘you should do this.’
- Explanation – a statement that includes at least one reason and a conclusion but doesn’t include an element of persuasion, e.g. ‘my critical thinking class has both sexes in it because my teacher wants us to have discussions from both perspectives.’
- Indicator words and phrases – help the reader to identify a particular part of an argument.
- Conclusion indicator words – act like a signal to tell us which phrase or sentence is the conclusion of the argument. E.g. therefore, so, as a result, consequently, which proves that, this means that, it follows that, thus, hence, etc.
- Sometimes indicator words are not present so you need to:
-Find the phrase or sentence that you think represents the overall point of view the writer wants you to accept.
-Try putting an indicator word like ‘therefore’ or ‘so’ immediately before this phrase or sentence to see if it makes sense.
- A reason is a rational statement that aims to persuade the reader to accept a conclusion
- Reason indicator words include:
-For the reason that, seeing that, as, because, in view of the fact that, seeing as, since, given that, etc.
- Indicator words that link reasons include:
-In addition, also, as well as, etc.
Counter assertions and counter arguments
- Counter assertion - a statement (or claim) that goes against the main conclusion of the argument
- Counter argument – a complete mini-argument that opposes the main conclusion of the argument – it includes all three elements of an argument.
- The main difference between counter assertions is that counter arguments include a reason / some reasons
- Counter arguments and counter assertions are included so that they can be made to look weak. This, in turn, strengthens the whole argument.
- Evidence – used to develop, strengthen or support a reason in an argument. It is usually in the form of numbers and the data can be from research, surveys, statistical calculations, etc.
NOTE: the numerical reference can be qualitative, e.g. ‘in a survey most people preferred to shop at Tesco’ – this is still evidence even though…