How to Measure Critical Thinking Skills


Although the concept of critical thinking goes back to Socrates and his Socratic method in 400 B.C.E., many educators have relied on memorization recall to assess their students. Because memorization is easier to teach and test than critical thinking skills, it has snuck into the assessments of many school districts over the years. Currently, critical thinking is emphasized in most school districts in the U.S.

Critical thinking is something of a challenge to measure because it includes a complex combination of skills and is interdisciplinary. Critical thinking crosses subject matter divisions, and responses almost necessarily are not all the same, making testing and evaluation difficult. Instead, educators have developed a rubric that is applied with as little subjectivity as possible.

Extracts from Critical Thinking Rubrics

  • Assess the student’s ability to summarize. The student should be able to summarize the main points and pivotal issues of the material and explain why they are important. They can tell the difference between facts and inferences.

  • Assess the student’s ability to consider context. Context influences the ethical relationships and the assumptions. Understanding the influences within the problem is critical to a full understanding. The student should be able to see the “big picture.”

  • Assess the student’s ability to come up with their own theory. A student should be able to develop their own perspective of the material. Justifying this position and recognizing what bias they might be bringing to it are advanced skills.

  • Assess the student’s ability to include alternate perspectives, including the implications of each. Being able to look outside the material and outside their own perspective is important. A student with critical thinking skills should be able to make a reasonable argument for the opposing view point.

  • Assess the student’s ability to develop a reasonable conclusion. The student should be able to make logical conclusions from the data they have available. Ranking relevance of ideas may be part of this criterion.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some assessments also look specifically at the student’s ability to communicate their ideas and synthesize their ideas into a well presented conclusion. Other assessments do not look at this specifically as the ability is usually embedded in the responses and generally covered by the other elements of the rubric.

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