Get Past the Stress of Critical Thinking Essays
I see it a lot from students who enter college classes right out of high school. They want to succeed and, let's face it, that means giving the correct answers on assignments. However, one of the biggest differences students face upon entering college is that the focus seems to shift from tests that ask them to simply provide the right answer to assignments that require some introspection.
There are several reasons students may be uncomfortable with critical thinking assignments. Maybe they're lazy and just don't want to do the work. Maybe handwriting an in-class essay is just more difficult than typing it on a computer. I believe more likely,however, that the problem is simply that students have never been taught the critical thinking process.
What is a critical thinking question?
A critical thinking question is one that asks a student to analyze something, to think about a topic a different way, or to consider additional viewpoints. Instead of asking what year the U.S. Constitution was created, a critical thinking question might ask, "Discuss the concerns the founding fathers addressed in the U.S. Constitution. Was their solution to these concerns effective? Discuss why or why not."
Answering a critical thinking question
As you see in the question above, your critical thinking question will involve your opinion, but it needs to be your educated opinion. Read whatever the instructor assigns for assigned reading. If you need more details or explanations to understand the material, follow through on that.
Armed with knowledge, you can now attack that critical thinking question. Take one section of it at a time. The first question in the example above wants to know what problems the founding fathers addressed in the U.S. Constitution. Your reading materials will tell you that the colonists didn't ever want to get into a situation again where a monarch, or one person or small group, had total power over them. You can go on to write about what inspired them include several articles under the Bill of Rights.Explain why they included things such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Your learning materials may or may not state that information, but you should be able to gain that understanding from reading them.
The next question asks whether the founding fathers' solution was effective, and to discuss why we believe it. This is where you have to think. Consider all the details that you have, then make your choice. I'd say that it was effective because we have a government of checks and balances established to provide continuous protection against overbearing rule.
See, that wasn't so hard.
- Some instructors just want you to answer the question. Whether you respond with one paragraph or two pages won't matter. Some, however, require a word count. Be sure to compose your essay in a Word or Google doc so you can track the number of words as you write.
- To meet word count, write more about the parts of the topic that you understand really well. You still have to address the part you might not really "get," but you'll shine in the areas you do.
- Don't include the essay title or your name as part of the word count. This trips up more students than you'd imagine.
- Know what plagiarism is and don't do it. Use your own words. Your instructor may use a plagiarism checker and will spot it. Even those who don't use one will spot wording that doesn't sound like it was written by you, then Google it, to discover you copied and pasted. It's not enough to give credit to the source. You must explain the thought or idea in your own words.