Types of Critical Thinking Exams Study Guide (page 3)

Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Top-Score Sample Argument Essay and Response


The following appeared in a letter to the editor in the sports pages of a community newspaper.

A teacher can't earn more than $50,000 a year doing one of the toughest jobs in the world. These saints work a lot harder and deserve to get paid a lot more for the miracles they perform on a daily basis. The average salary for professional athletes is $650,000. That's more than ten times what the average public high school principal makes. Basketball players can earn millions in just one season, and football players can earn hundreds of thousands for just a 30-second commercial. Even benchwarmers make more in a month than teachers. Who is more important—the woman who taught you how to read and write so that you can succeed in life, or the jock who plays for a living?


The author of this piece drives home the idea that professional athletes get paid too much, especially in comparison to teachers, who help you "succeed in life." As much as anyone may believe that teachers deserve to be paid more than they earn, or that some professional athletes are grossly overpaid, the argument this author makes is not very effective. Much of the evidence and reasoning used by the author of this piece is flimsy and illogically reasoned—there is a shaky conclusion, counterarguments are not addressed, and the premises the author uses to support the conclusion are not reasonably qualified.
The conclusion drawn in this argument is, "These saints work a lot harder and deserve to get paid a lot more for the miracles they perform on a daily basis." This sentence raises several red flags. First of all, the author draws a comparison between teachers and saints. It is true that teachers do noble work, and arguably this work improves individuals and sometimes even society; however, neither of these duties makes teachers "saints." Second of all, the author uses the word miracles to describe the results of teachers' work. This word is emotionally charged, implying that a teacher's work is amazing and fantastic. The connotation of the word miracle suggests bias in the author's opinion of the teaching profession. Juxtaposed to calling the work of professional athletes "play," this word draws on the reader's compassion, appealing to emotional rather than presenting impartial evidence. Finally, this claim is incomplete. Teachers work harder than whom? Deserve to get paid more than whom? Although the answer "professional athletes" is implied, the claim does not explicitly state this.
The argument as given is weakened by the fact that it does not address any counterarguments or note any other perspectives. It could have addressed the positive role models many athletes play to youth, the community outreach many professional athletes do for free, or the generous charities many athletes set up and donate money to. By stating some of these counterarguments and refuting them, the author could have gained more credibility, showing that insight and logic played into his or her argument. As it is, the argument appears biased and one-sided.
What's more, the premises the author based his or her conclusions on seem unreasonably qualified. For example, the average salary given for professional athletes doesn't seem like the appropriate measure to use in this situation. There are many professional sports, professional table tennis or volleyball, for example, where the salaries for even the top players don't approach $650,000. If you were to survey all professional athletes, you'd probably find that the typical player doesn't come close to a sixfigure salary. However, because high-profile athletes like Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods make millions of dollars, the average is higher than the typical salary. Therefore, this piece of evidence the author chooses seems loaded.
In addition, sources are not provided for this salary statistic. The author does not cite sources for the $50,000 teacher's salary or that benchwarmers make more than teachers. (Besides, it is unlikely that table tennis team benchwarmers make larger salaries than teachers!) Because this evidence lacks sources, the author's credibility is weakened, since the evidence cannot be verified as fact. If the figures can be verified, then the premises are reasonable; however, for all the reader knows, the author simply made everything up.
Overall, this argument is not well reasoned. The conclusion of this argument seems biased and the word choice seems suspect, appealing to emotion rather than logic. Additionally, the argument does not seem to consider alternate viewpoints, further weakening its position. Finally, the evidence presented in the argument weakens its credibility because it doesn't cite a source to verify its validity. Although many people believe that teachers deserve to be paid a better salary, this particular argument isn't effective. The logical conclusion would be to suggest some type of change or solution to this problem, but the incomplete conclusion, appealing to emotion makes it sound like the author is complaining, rather than making a good case for a teacher salary increase.

Vocational and Other Critical Thinking Tests

In addition to the tests already discussed in this lesson, many colleges, universities, and businesses use critical thinking tests, such as the California Critical Thinking Test or the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. Employers use these kinds of tests to help make hiring and promotion decisions. Here are several examples of the kinds of questions you might find.

To prepare for this type of test, review in particular the lessons on deductive and inductive reasoning, as well as the lessons on logical fallacies.

A widely used test, in both vocational and educational settings, is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA). It is made up of various reading passages followed by questions designed to test these skills:

  • inference
  • recognition of assumptions
  • deduction
  • interpretation
  • evaluation of arguments

This test is similar to many other critical reading evaluations. You can prepare for the WCGTA by using this book as explained in the SAT and ACT sections already discussed.

Many vocational tests, such as the Corrections Officer Exam and the U.S. Customs Service Critical Thinking Skills Test, use situational questions. You read a written scenario, and then you must answer questions. The questions may ask you to make inferences or judgment calls. There are three types of situational questions:

  1. read rules or agency procedures and apply them to a hypothetical situation
  2. answer which hypothetical situation is most likely to indicate dangerous or criminal activity
  3. read about a job-related situation and choose which of five inferences is correct, and why it is correct

These tests rely heavily on critical thinking skills. You need to understand the problem or situation clearly and be able to determine what is implied, or may be inferred about it. Focused observation is a highly important skill in these types of jobs. Being able to make sound judgment calls is also critical.

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