Critical thinking in preclinical course examinations

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PURPOSE. To examine the relationship between preclinical medical school course examinations and critical-thinking skills by correlating examination results with the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA), an 80-item critical-thinking inventory. METHOD. The 196 students in the class of 1993 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Southwestern Medical School were given the WGCTA during the second half of their freshman year. A composite WGCTA score and five subtest scores were calculated for each student. The course examinations were 25 tests, each with a majority of multiple-choice items, from courses given during the first two years of the school curriculum. The students' undergraduate grade-point average (GPAs), medical school GPAs, and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores were also included in the analysis. Pearson product-moment correlations were calculated between the students' WGCTA scores and their examination scores, MCAT scores, and GPAs. RESULTS. Sixteen of the examinations–in the behavioral sciences, psychiatry, ethics, pathology, introduction to clinical medicine, genetics, endocrinology, and cell biology–had significant positive correlations with the WGCTA, as did MCAT scores and first-year GPAs. Correlations were more robust with the WGCTA subscales for interpretation (18 examinations), evaluation of arguments (15), and deduction (13), and less robust with the subscales for inference (7) and recognition of assumptions (3). CONCLUSIONS. The results suggest that objective multiple-choice examinations can at least partially reflect critical-thinking skills.

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