Critical Thinking Ability - Here To Stay

Wyn Davies, Global Head of Cognitive Ability at Pearson TalentLens, asks why an increasing number of employers are citing the importance of Critical Thinking Ability (CTA) in their staff.

What is CTA?

A Google search on Critical Thinking Ability (CTA) now delivers over 287,000,000 results. But what is CTA exactly and why is there increasing organisational interest in the importance of this ability in their employees? Critical thinking is the ability to look at a situation and clearly understand it from multiple perspectives whilst separating facts from opinions and assumptions.

CTA in Education

The demand for Critical Thinking has precipitated its introduction as AS and A level courses in a number of UK schools, whilst many prestigious universities and business schools around the world measure critical thinking ability levels in course applicants. The GMAT entrance exam for MBA courses has a section measuring CTA. Increasing numbers of employers measure critical thinking ability in job applicants and develop it in existing staff as part of staff and management development programmes.

So why is critical thinking ability deemed important in business?

A 2013 Critical Thinking means Business whitepaper cites the following example – when more than 400 senior HR professionals in the USA were asked in a 2006 survey to name the most important skill their employees will need in the next five years, critical thinking ranked the highest; surpassing innovation or the application of information technology. With globalisation and the increased speed of business, employees at every level are facing an increasingly complex flow of information. World Economic Forum studies from 2016 and then 2018 further emphasised the increasing importance that possessing good critical thinking ability has for the individual, the workplace and society as a whole.

An elusive skill

Work settings are changing rapidly, and employees are moving into new roles, often with limited direction. Employees can no longer rely on others to make key decisions. They often must make them on their own, and quickly. And the decisions have to be good ones. If they fall short, there may be no time to recover. Good decisions require focusing on the most relevant information, asking the right questions, and separating reliable facts from false assumptions; all elements of critical thinking. And yet too few employees possess these essential skills.

Watson Glaser Test of Critical Thinking Ability

Increasing numbers of employers are reporting that academic results alone offer insufficient evidence to make hiring decisions. For example, when a job requires an applicant to have a 2:1 degree and it receives 100 applications meeting the criteria, more information is required, in order to be able to sift out or progress the candidates.

Pearson TalentLens has a renowned psychometric assessment of CTA, called the Watson-Glaser (WGCTA). It also delivers an online Critical Thinking University and a number of workshops aimed at developing critical thinking ability.

What does the Watson Glaser measure?

The WGCTA measures five areas that are the building blocks of critical thinking:

Inferences

An inference is a conclusion that a person can draw from certain observed and supposed facts. For example, if the lights and TV are on in a house, a person may infer that someone is at home. Suppose the person left the house without turning the lights and TV off? Often we make inferences with insufficient data.

Recognition of assumptions

An assumption is something we take for granted. If you say “I will be a doctor in a years time”, you are assuming that you will be alive in a years time and that you will have passed the exams and found a job. Lots of people make assumptions based on prejudice, myths or previous experiences; this is not critical thinking.

Deductions

Are the deductions we make logical? Take this statement: John, Jane and Pete are all lazy. They are all English; therefore all English are lazy. The deduction is flawed.

Interpretation

This looks at whether the conclusion follows on beyond reasonable doubt from the information you are given. If you are told that in a study the size of a child’s vocabulary rises from 0 words at 8 months of age to an average of 2,000 at five years you can conclude that no children can talk at 7 months of age.

Evaluation of arguments

This looks at the strength of an argument. We often rush to decisions without looking at all the available facts or evaluating all the arguments for and against. Impulsivity, emotions, strongly held beliefs and values, arrogance (I know my argument is right) can sometimes get in the way. This can lead to negative consequences both in and outside of work. Can you think of any examples where arguments were not evaluated, which lead to poor decisions being made?

Contact us to find out more about Critical Thinking Ability and ways to measure and develop it.

Contact Matt Stevens