Apply Critical Thinking Skills During Final Exams

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As we enter the final exam season, it is important to remember as you study to apply critical thinking to study strategies for you upcoming exams.  Finals do not just test your ability to memorize facts, many of them will be assessing your ability to reason an apply the knowledge you have gained over the semester (an in previous classes).  So it is important to demonstrate that you have mastered the thought process, concepts, problem-solving, deductions, inferences, etc., that you have learned.

According to John Chaffee, “To do well on an exam, you need to define the problem (what areas will the exam cover, and what will be the format?), identify and evaluate various alternatives (what are possible study approaches?), and then pull all these factors together to reach a solution (what will be your study plan and schedule?)” (Chaffee, 106).

You should not be surprised on you exams because the material will come from things covered in lectures, discussed in class, or were in the assigned readings.  Using critical thinking skills during exams involves taking the content you learned in class, synthesizing it to the questions being asked on the exams, and then using critical thinking to evaluate the possible answers until you find the correct one.

Chaffee provides an example of the critical thinking process:

  • Define the terms used in this test and explain their meaning in this context.
  • Gather information from different sources, such as textbooks, lectures, professional writing, etc.
  • Analyze information from multiple perspectives and from different angles.
  • Be open minded about all possible answers.
  • Approach complex problems in an orderly manner and deconstruct problems into easier to manage elements.
  • Think through the process, interpreting and evaluating the information.
  • Consider two conflicting view points, and identify the strong and weak arguments of each side.
  • Elaborate on various answers, and list pros and cons.
  • Choose the most appropriate answer to the question.

So use your critical thinking skills to prepare guide your preparation for the exam and then while taking your exams.

Source: Chaffee, John.  Thinking Critically, 11th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2015.


Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, heads runs an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.

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