Joe’s Jotter: Students, Practice Thinking Critically

Students,

Did you struggle to find a way to revise this year? Did you feel like your classmates were always a step ahead of you with study? Do you just read content in the hope that you will remember it later?

This article relates how you understand and learn subject content, and the different angles you can approach it from to get a better handle on it. The more ways you can approach learning, as opposed to just ‘learning off’ material, the more successful you will be.

I believe successful students are those who can think critically about the information they have in front of them. To do this, you as a student should read the information presented by the author, understand it as best you can and then begin to question it critically. Being critical does not mean just being negative; it also means being knowledgeable and really assessing the quality of the information. My ACE tip here is to use your imagination, challenge the question being asked and don’t be afraid to offer your own personal opinion on topics. Teachers and Examiners like opinions as it shows you can think independently.

In 2013, The Open University (UK) developed a ‘stairway’ to help students understand the skills of critical thinking. Students should apply these steps to a specific topic in order to understand it better. I think this is an excellent way of studying, as you are reflecting on all aspects of the information presented. This method would be particularly useful in subjects like English, Economics, History, Geography and Business.  The steps are as follows:

  • Process: take in the information (i.e. in what you have read, heard, seen, or done).
  • Understand: comprehend the key points, assumptions and arguments presented.
  • Analyse: examine how these key components link together.
  • Compare: explore the similarities and differences ideas you are reading about.
  • Synthesise: bring together different sources of information making logical connections between them.
  • Evaluate: assess the worth of an idea in terms of its relevance to your needs.
  • Apply: transfer the understanding gained and use in response to questions, assignments, and projects.
  • Justify: use critical thinking to develop arguments, draw conclusions, and identify implications.

In today’s Junior and Leaving Certificate, where you need to be able to apply knowledge to a topic, learning off too much information is a common mistake made by students and is not recommended. There is more of an emphasis now on applying everyday life experience to each question asked. Similarly, if the butterflies are fluttering madly on the morning of the exam, you are less likely to remember a lengthy essay you have learned off. In my opinion, you are better off to stick with summaries, bullet points, post-its, quotes, mind maps, definitions, and little hardbacks. The state exams are now more about identifying the important information in a question and discussing its merits, as opposed to emptying the contents of your head onto the answer book. This is something to reflect on over the summer as you plan your Autumn revision strategies.

To view last weeks feature articles on finalising your CAO decisions, click here.

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