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 or A2 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/A2 levels, one hour per week, and shorter homework tasks are set in view of Year 12 students' other commitments.
A2 Critical Thinking
Students who do well at AS level can opt for A2 Critical Thinking as an addition A2 to the normal 3 or 4 subjects taken in Year 13. The A2 course will be of particular interest to those considering taking Philosophy, Religious Studies, Social Sciences, Medicine, Law or similar subjects at university because Unit 3 is about ethical reasoning and decision making. Students learn about a variety of ethical positions to apply to dilemmas. For example utilitarians believe that the good of the majority is the most important factor when making a decision, whereas followers of duty ethics believe that it is important to do what is intrinsically good, regardless of the consequences. If the ethical dilemma considered is whether to imprison terrorist suspects without sufficient hard evidence to charge them, utilitarians would say yes, for the good of the public, whereas followers of duty ethics would argue that it is wrong to imprison people who could be innocent. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking part of the course and materials are selected that reflect the most recent issues.
Unit 4 requires candidates to examine closely real arguments from media sources, uncovering flaws, loaded language and rhetorical devices, identifying strengths and analysing the structure. They have to write their own well structured and convincing arguments from a contrasting point of view. The skills are similar to those developed in Unit 2 but at a more challenging level. This Unit is likely to be of special interest to those studying English or interested in journalism.
Details of A2 Level Critical Thinking
A2 Level Code H452
2 written examinations:
A2 Unit F503: Ethical Reasoning and Decision-making: 1 hour 30 minutes, worth 25% of whole A-level. You are presented with information and data on a controversial issue and have to write about the different criteria and ethical principles you could apply to help you make a decision.
A2 Unit F504: Critical Reasoning: 1 hour 30 minutes, worth 25% of whole A-level.
Answer short and longer questions analysing and evaluating an argument and write a sophisticated argument of your own on a related topic.
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 and, at A2, a variety of ethical theories and terms from ethical reasoning.
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 Dr Swale.
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- but perhaps more so as the means to A2 Critical which is more useful. (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)
About A2 level
I took critical thinking as my fifth subject and I think it helped to give me the edge over other candidates when applying for university, as well as useful preparation for law tests. (Charlotte)
There are many ethical dilemmas in careers in science and this course has helped me consider them. Really good to debate different issues… (Katherine)
If you enjoyed AS, you will enjoy A2. It advances your reasoning and debating skills further. (Helen)
A2 is more about the real world and more in depth. (Joanna)
It has taught me about problems governments face and relevant contemporary social issues. (Sally)
I enjoyed looking at the different philosophers and their different arguments. (Ayesha)
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)
Universities our students found were happy to accept grades in Critical Thinking A2 as part of a grades offers in 2010 (though offers may vary according to subject and from year to year) include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lancaster, Imperial College, UCL, Exeter, East Anglia, Kent, York, University of the West of England and Winchester.
Doing A2 as a fourth A level can provide extra points which many of the newer universities ask for instead of grades e.g. about A2 CT, Ch. wrote ‘It is a good back up as if I had not taken Critical Thinking I would have to get B,C,C in 3 A levels, which is high for me’.
Others like Birmingham ‘like it as an extra’.
Critical Thinking Enrichment