Critical thinking as a future skill

Critical thinking is a familiar term and seems to be very important these days, but what is it exactly and how can it be measured?

What is critical thinking?

The definition of critical thinking varies among individuals, scientists, and test developers. Following a review of the literature, it’s evident that most definitions include cognitive abilities such as deduction and quantitative reasoning. Additionally, researchers incorporate elements from meta-cognition (e.g., reflecting on one’s thinking process and decision-making), motivation (e.g., the inclination to question assumptions), attitude (e.g., challenging personal beliefs and questioning information from “authorities”), and problem-solving techniques (e.g., logical reasoning and analyzing complex data objectively). Therefore, critical thinking can be defined as:

Critical thinking is a combination of cognitive abilities, motivation, attitude, and problem-solving techniques that facilitate logical thinking and unbiased decision-making.

Early philosophers, such as Socrates, sought ways to derive accurate conclusions and make informed decisions using questioning techniques and reasoning methods. The term “critical thinking” was coined by John Dewey in 1910, with an educational focus on fostering scientific reasoning and decision-making in everyday situations.

Why is it important?

Critical thinking has always been important for making good decisions in various aspects of life, including education, employment, and scientific inquiry. Today, as misinformation is spread, e.g. on social media, the significance of critical thinking is getting even more important. In the professional sphere, where vast amounts of data from diverse sources are available, the need for making logical, unbiased decisions based on data is escalating. Consequently, critical thinking can be regarded as an essential “future skill.” It is therefore included in lists of future skills like the OECD Learning Compass 2030 (OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030).

Measuring critical thinking with “critical thinking assessments”

Several tests are specifically designed for measuring critical thinking ability, each focusing on different aspects. Some instruments concentrate solely on cognitive aspects, resembling intelligence measures and study aptitude tests. However, they distinguish themselves from intelligence tests by incorporating more complex problem-solving tasks that sometimes simulate real-life situations.

For instance, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) evaluates abilities such as quantitative reasoning, deduction, problem analysis, and argument evaluation. Notably, the results of such tests are highly correlated with study aptitude tests like GRE and academic performance. Similar assessments are the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment (HCTA) and the Watson-Glaser TM II Critical Thinking Appraisal (W-GII), which also emphasize reasoning abilities and correlate with scores in intelligence tests and study aptitude tests.

Other instruments, such as the California Measure of Mental Motivation (CM3), focus more on motivational aspects of critical thinking, such as cognitive engagement and motivation towards problem-solving and learning. Their scores are also correlated with GPA and study aptitude tests, but to a lesser extent.

Measuring critical thinking with study aptitude tests

As observed, certain critical thinking assessments exhibit high correlations with study aptitude tests, suggesting that these tests measure critical thinking abilities to a significant extent. In our study aptitude tests, we integrate classical modules assessing general mental abilities, such as quantitative reasoning, with more complex problem-solving tasks tailored to specific fields of study.

For example, our “graphs and tables” module, implemented since the 1980s in aptitude tests for economics, business administration, and science, presents graphs and tables depicting information relevant to the field of study, together with an explanatory text. Participants are then tasked with critically analyzing conclusions drawn from the provided data, distinguishing between logically deducible and non-deducible conclusions. This module, along with others such as “analyzing texts,” serves as a miniature simulation of real-world problem-solving situations encountered in academic and professional contexts. A module similar to graphs and tables was also introduced in 2012 as “integrated reasoning” in one of the most famous admission tests, the GMAT.


The ability to think critically has always been important, but in a world full of complex data and misinformation, good decision-making requires even more a logic and bias-free evaluation of data. While intelligence tests measure a significant aspect of critical thinking, specialized critical thinking assessments, as well as modern study aptitude tests, offer good measurements of this essential future skill.

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