Proposition testing: a strategy to develop critical thinking for essay writing

Hammer, Sara and Griffiths, Phil (2015) Proposition testing: a strategy to develop critical thinking for essay writing. In: The Palgrave handbook of critical thinking in higher education. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., New York, United States, pp. 247-263. ISBN 978-113737805-7


The thesis-controlled essay is one of the assessment tasks most associated with the development critical thinking by teachers in higher education. In this chapter we question the neat correlation of essays with the development of critical thinking. We argue that an essay can work against the development of students’ critical thinking skills by requiring them to marshal evidence in support of their own argument. In so doing, they potentially omit a crucial stage in the critical thinking process: careful consideration of different positions within a debate.

The chapter argument is based on a three year study of disciplinary novices in one first and one second year politics unit within the Business and Law faculty of an Australian university. Data was collected in the form of student work samples and a combination of interview data and online reflections and feedback about students’ experiences of the assessment scheme. We outline two multi-stage assessment schemes that were designed with the aim of explicitly focusing student effort in the areas of research, critical evaluation, and argument analysis: identifying author arguments and evidence, developing a research program and testing supporting propositions and claims. We found that for a large, first year student cohort in a core subject servicing multiple business degrees, student critical thinking was enhanced by dropping the essay as part of the assessment regime. Where the subject included a major essay as the final assignment, as in our second year course, we found that students’ capacity for critical thinking was enhanced when assessment questions asked student to explicitly examine and engage with rival positions in a debate and test them against available evidence

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Item Type: Book Chapter (Commonwealth Reporting Category B)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to Published version due to publisher's copyright policy.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Division of Academic Services - Learning and Teaching Support
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2015 05:53
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2016 02:15
Uncontrolled Keywords: assessment, critical thinking, essay, higher education
Fields of Research : 13 Education > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130202 Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9303 Curriculum > 930301 Assessment and Evaluation of Curriculum
Identification Number or DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-37805-7_16

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