Types of Critical Thinking Exams Study Guide (page 4)
Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
Charles Caleb Colton, English writer and minister (1780–1832)
Did you know that people applying for jobs or job promotions take critical-thinking exams somewhat like the ones college-bound students take? More and more businesses, including state and local governments, test the critical skills of prospective employees to measure their ability to handle problems on the job. In this lesson, you'll discover what some of those critical-thinking test questions are like. And you'll learn how to prepare to ace these tests.
Most college-bound high school students are familiar with the ACT and the SAT, tests that many colleges and universities use to make admissions decisions. And college graduates may take tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT to get into graduate school. All these tests have a section that measures critical-thinking skills through a variety of questions based on reading passages, scientific experiments, and written opinions and arguments. Many of the tests are similar: ACT critical reading questions are similar to those on the SAT, and the GRE Analytical Writing Test is comparable to parts of the GMAT and LSAT. So in this lesson, we will focus on sections of each test that are unique.
The SAT Reasoning Test
The SAT is divided into three parts: critical reading, math, and writing. The critical reading section includes short and long reading passages, followed by questions that test your ability to comprehend the content. Questions may be based on one or two reading passages, and some are not based on any passage, but instead measure your knowledge of word meaning and logical sentence structure.
What You Will Find on the Test
The SAT passages represent various writing styles and are taken from different disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. They are written at the college level, which means they are sophisticated and complex, and may contain some unfamiliar vocabulary. It is not expected that you have any prior knowledge of the material in the passages, but rather that you have the ability to read, understand, and use the information in them. Each SAT also contains a pair of related passages presented as one reading section. They may express opposite points of view, support each other's point of view, or otherwise complement each other.
Critical reading questions will direct you to:
- infer the meaning of words from context
- comprehend the information presented in the passage
- analyze the information
- critique the authors' arguments (singly and as opposed to one another in a dual passage section)
Using Study Guides to Prepare for the SAT
Lessons that relate directly to skills needed for success on the SAT Critical Reading section are:
- Inference: Recognizing a Problem Study Guide and Defining a Problem Study Guide. These lessons cover how to take in information, and understand what it suggests, but does not say outright. When you infer, you draw conclusions based on evidence.
- Persuasion Techniques: Persuasion Techniques Study Guide. Some questions will ask you to evaluate arguments. Understanding how persuasion works, and being able to identify rhetorical devices used in persuasive writing, will help you to correctly answer these types of questions.
- Deductive and Inductive Reasoning: Deductive Reasoning Study Guide and Inductive Reasoning Study Guide. These lessons teach the design of logical arguments. They will both help you recognize such arguments, and show you how to make them yourself.
- Logical Fallacies: Deductive Fallacy Study Guide, Inductive Fallacy Study Guide and Common Logical Fallacies Study Guide. Knowing the terminology of fallacies, and how they work, will help you identify and describe weak or invalid arguments with accuracy.
- Judgment Calls: Judgment Call Study Guide. This lesson also teaches about inference. When you have some evidence, but not enough to come to a clear-cut decision, you will need to make a judgment about the answer.
Roadblocks to Critical Reading Question Success
- U sing prior information. Every answer comes from a reading selection, whether it appears directly or can be inferred. If you have prior knowledge of the subject, don't use it. Adding information, even if it makes sense to you to do so, can lead you to the wrong answer.
- Choosing an answer just because it is true. There may be a couple of true answers, but only one will answer the question best.
The ACT consists of four separate tests: English, reading, math, and science. The reading test is similar to the SAT Critical Reading Test; it consists of passages followed by questions that relate to them. The science test also involves critical-thinking skills. It is designed as a reasoning test, rather than an assessment of your science knowledge. As with the critical reading tests, you are given in the passages all the information you need to know to answer the questions. (However, the ACT website does note that "background knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed to answer some of the questions.")
What You Will Find on the Test
The ACT Science Reasoning Test contains 40 questions covering biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth/space sciences, including geology, astronomy, and meteorology. The questions measure interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. There are seven passages that present scientific information in one of three formats: data representation (graphs, tables, etc.), research summaries, or conflicting viewpoints (several related but inconsistent hypotheses or views). Each passage is followed by a number of multiple-choice questions that ask you to interpret, evaluate, analyze, draw conclusions, and make predictions about the information. Here, "passages" may include both text and graphics, like figures, charts, diagrams, tables, or any combination of these.
Specifically, you will be asked to:
- read and understand scatter plots, graphs, tables, diagrams, charts, figures, etc.
- interpret scatter plots, graphs, tables, diagrams, charts, figures, etc.
- compare and interpret information presented in graphics
- draw conclusions about the information provided
- make predictions about the data
- develop hypotheses based on the data
Using Study Guides to Prepare for the Exam
- Recognizing and Defining Problems: Recognizing a Problem Study Guide and Defining a Problem Study Guide. These lessons will help you to zero in on the precise problems presented in Conflicting Viewpoint passages.
- Focused Observation: Increased Awareness Study Guide. Knowing how to concentrate and approach a problem thoroughly is critical, because not only are you expected to arrive at the correct answer, but you must record it in a relatively short period.
- Graphic Organizers: Brainstorming Graphic Organizers Study Guide. Understanding how information fits into charts, maps, and outlines will help you to make sense of, and draw conclusions about, them.
- Persuasion Techniques: Persuasion Techniques Study Guide. This lesson will be most useful when dealing with Conflicting Viewpoints. It explains how persuasive arguments work. Having this knowledge will help you to be better able to analyze conflicting viewpoints.
- The Numbers Game: Manipulating Statistics Study Guide. You will gain an understanding of how numbers are used and misused. Many questions are designed to evaluate how good your skills in this area are.
- Deductive and Inductive Reasoning: Deductive Reasoning Study Guide and Inductive Reasoning Study Guide. These lessons cover the structure of logical arguments, which help you draw conclusions, and, with inductive logic, the development of hypotheses.
- Judgment Calls: Making Judgment Call Study Guide. Any time you make an inference, you are testing your ability to make sound judgment calls. This lesson will also help you to evaluate the consequences of possible solutions.
- Explanations: Argument vs. Explanation Study Guide. In this lesson, you discovered what makes a valid, sound explanation. On tests, you're often asked to choose the best answer out of four. With what you've learned, you'll be able to pick the right answer.
Always read all directions carefully and read all the answers before choosing one. Answer the easy questions first. And don't change an answer unless you're sure it's wrong; your first guess is most often right.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) General Test
The GRE General Test assesses knowledge and skills needed for graduate study. There are four parts: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills not related to any specific field of study. The verbal section is similar to the critical reading on the SAT. You're asked to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information in passages you read.
What You Will Find on the Test
The GRE analytical writing section differs from both the SAT and ACT in that there are no multiple-choice questions. Instead, your critical-thinking skills are tested as you examine claims and evidence, support ideas with relevant reasons and examples, and keep up a rational, well-focused discussion. Answers are judged on how well you:
- consider the complexities and implications of the issue
- organize, develop, and express your ideas on the issue
- identify and analyze important features of the argument
- organize, develop, and express your critique of the argument
- support your ideas with relevant reasons and examples
- control the elements of standard written English
The Issue section provides two opinions on topics of general interest. You must select one and then respond to it from any perspective. Your response must be supported with sound explanations, evidence, and examples. In the next section, you are given an argument to analyze. Rather than giving your opinion on the subject, you must explain how the argument is either logically sound or not.
Using Study Guides to Prepare for the Test
- Recognizing and Defining Problems: Recognizing a Problem Study Guide and Defining a Problem Study Guide. These lessons will help you to zero in on the precise problems you will discuss in both the opinion and argument sections. It is especially important that you can make the distinction between a problem and its symptoms or consequences.
- Focused Observation: Increased Observation Study Guide. Knowing how to gather information is critical, because you must back up your opinion or critique with relevant examples and reasoning.
Fact and Opinion: Fact or Opinion Study Guide. You won't have access to research materials while taking the GRE, but you can think critically about the documentation of sources and credentials. If the author of the argument you must analyze cites facts and figures without documentation, that is an important point for you to make.
- Persuasion Techniques: Persuasion Techniques Study Guide. This lesson teaches you how to recognize and describe persuasion techniques. You will learn the names of the rhetorical devices used in persuasive writing, and how they work. The use of these correct terms will improve the quality of your responses.
- The Numbers Game: Manipulating Statistics Study Guide. Surveys, studies, and statistics may be used in the argument you must analyze. Knowing how to judge the validity of such facts will help you to construct a strong response (see the following sample argument and response for a specific example).
- Deductive and Inductive Reasoning: Deductive Reasoning Study Guide and Inductive Reasoning Study Guide. These lessons cover the structure of logical arguments. You need a thorough understanding of reasoning to be able to identify and analyze the important features of the argument you are given.
- Explanations: Argument vs. Explanation Study Guide. There are no "correct" answers on the GRE Analytical Writing Test. Whatever view or critique you decide to write about, you will need to explain yourself using evidence and examples. This lesson teaches you how to recognize and construct sound explanations.
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:
- recognition of assumptions
- 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:
- read rules or agency procedures and apply them to a hypothetical situation
- answer which hypothetical situation is most likely to indicate dangerous or criminal activity
- 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.
The skills you have learned are invaluable when taking many kinds of exams. Those needed to gain admission to colleges and graduate schools are examples. Many such tests include sections on critical reading and writing in which you will be asked to make inferences, interpret graphic organizers, choose appropriate conclusions, and analyze arguments.
There are also critical-thinking tests given to those looking to be hired or gain a promotion in the workforce. Some are specific to certain professions, while others are more general and may be used for a wide variety of employment settings. By studying critical thinking skills, you will be preparing yourself to successfully complete these kinds of exams.
Remind yourself that you're going to do well on a test before you start. A positive attitude can help you be successful!
Skill Building Until Next Time
- If you are preparing to take an exam that includes a critical thinking skills component, go back to the Critical Thinking Assessment Practice Quiz. Which questions did you answer incorrectly? Was there a particular concept that gave you trouble? Focus your study on those areas.
- Are you in college and planning to enter the workforce? Do some research into the career(s) you are considering. Are there hiring tests given? Most of this information is available on the Internet. Finding out exactly what the test(s) looks like and how it is scored will help you to prepare.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Types of Critical Thinking Practice Exercises.
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