Formalizing Critical Thinking for Science Examinations:


What to Believe?

What to do?


What to Believe?

It will help to write down the essence of the question, even if this is in the briefest of short-hand form. This is particularly important for “word” questions where the 'précis' or condensing process can make the problem manageable. In the case of geometry or trigonometry problems it really helps to copy the diagram from the question paper to your answer sheet. Enter all the given information in the diagram. If a graph is provided copy that and enter all information. This is also important for some Physics and Chemistry questions.


We need to recognise (or identify) the essentials of the question. What type of problem is it? Can we identify the question as being similar to previous questions which we have encountered and solved? If there are similarities and differences, note them. What information is supplied? Are there patterns in the supplied data? In multi-part questions the parts themselves may reveal a critically thought-through path to the final part of the question. Such questions can teach us the types of 'Socratic' questions to ask.


When we look at the memorandum for a question after failing to answer correctly, we can learn what questions we should have asked.


These questions should supply key words for our brain to use in tracking down related information.


What to do?


Hopefully, the stimuli provided by the preceding analytical section will have produced a number of ideas for solving the problem. Some may be incomplete and others may be inappropriate. Try to see where various ideas may lead. You may see non right angled triangles and decide to try the Cosine Rule. You have an angle and 2 sides. Are they the correct two sides? Is the angle the 'included' angle.


We may take guidance from military theory. Military problems are amorphous (of uncertain form) and constantly changing, at least in detail. Great leaders tended to think in terms of a 'master plan' (strategy) which addressed the essence of the problem and then a means of implementing the strategy, known as tactics.


In WW2 allied sea-borne supply lines across the North Atlantic were threatened by enemy submarines. At one stage Britain's food stocks fell to less than a week's requirements. Allied strategy involved collecting supply ships into groups called convoys where they could be protected by the limited number of anti-submarine vessels available and also patrolling the sea-lanes with anti-submarine aircraft to keep the enemy submarines from surfacing to charge their propulsion batteries. Part of the Allied tactics involved breaking the enemy communications codes and hence tracking the submarines, improved submarine detection using sound-based “underwater radar” or SONAR and deploying small “escort”aircraft carriers which could provide air support in mid-Atlantic when ships were beyond the reach of land-based aircraft.


The Tool

The is the first attempt to put the above thoughts to work on actual test and examination questions



iTutor - The Critical Thinking Tool




Using the Critical Thinking Tool (CTT)


  1. It is not necessary to write everything down but it will help to do so while you are getting used to making an effective CTT.
  2. If a diagram or a graph are involved always make your own sketch and add all the given data.
  3. After you solve the problem, update the tool you created in step one.  This way you learn how to make better tools.


It is time to put the CTT to work