• Aleksandra Nowicka

How To Develop Your Critical Thinking Skills

Updated: Jun 24, 2020



I quite often hear from you that critical thinking assessment is the area that you perform less well at, find it rather difficult, and in consequence, stressful. The reality is that you cannot skip it, for most City law firms require you to take Watson Glaser or other critical thinking test (CTT) in order to progress with your training contract or vacation scheme applications. If we cannot leave it behind, we must learn how to live with it, and in this case, how to develop your critical thinking skills. Even though some people state otherwise, you can prepare for CTTs. Why? These are not typical IQ tests (I still hold the view that even to those you can actually prepare, to some extent), nevertheless, you can TRAIN YOUR BRAIN and use those tests as a warm-up before practicing CTTs.


Do critical thinking skills matter? Yes, yes, yes, and YES! You can use them not only at work, but also in everyday life.



What is critical thinking?


Remember to always see the bigger picture! Instead of thinking ‘Why is this law firm so mean to ask me to pass those stupid tests…’, try to understand what is the aim in such a structure of application process. Bear in mind that in a real job you will deal with way more complicated scenarios which will require you to think critically and analytically, and what then? So treat those tests as a pre-party to the challenges awaiting in your future career.



Types of CTTs


There are plenty of CTTs, however, Watson Glaser is still the most popular one (at least in the City). They all will try to assess you in five sectors (five types of questions): Inference, Recognition of Assumptions, Deductions, Interpretations, and Evaluation of Arguments. Through your answers you need to prove that you think analytically and logically.


Inferences check whether you come to a conclusion which is based on evidence. Logic is applied to this evidence, and the person who makes an inference is figuring out a conclusion that is not explicit, but rather implied from the evidence.


EXAMPLE: You’re leaving the house and cannot find your keys or phone, even though you are quite certain that you put them on a kitchen table. There are several inferences that you can make in that scenario:

1. A burglar snuck into the house and stole them.

2. They disappeared as a result of abnormal laws of physics.

3. A ghost took them.

4. Someone else in the house moved them.

5. You are wrong, and actually you left them somewhere else.


TO REMEMBER: Inferences ask you to comment how likely they are to be true or false, than simply if they are correct or not. Therefore, you must assess whether the given conclusions are Definitely True, Probably True, Insufficient data to say whether it is true or false, Probably False, Definitely False.


Applying those to the above scenario, we can say that:

1. Probably false – there is always a chance that a burglar might sneak into, but such chances are slim. It is not Definitely False because it could have happened.

2. & 3. False or probably false – why? Because depending on your beliefs and you must consider both as impossible to happen. Because both are quite ambiguous and subjective, there is a little chance that this kind of inference will take place on a real CTT.

4. & 5. Probably true – it is the most rational explanation, however, we do not for sure that this is the case. Therefore, it is PROBABLY True.



Assumptions are sometimes made by a person making the argument. They might be explicit or implicit, and you are asked to identify the latter. CTT assesses your ability to highlight what assumptions an argument or statement is making.


EXAMPLE: It is vital that we increase public spending on healthcare to keep the population in good health.

1. Public spending on healthcare is too low.

2. The health of the population is in decline.

3. Better healthcare is needed to keep the population healthy.


You answer in this section whether Assumption (is) Made or Assumption (is) Not Made. In the first example you should answer ‘Assumption Made’ because the person making an argument is saying that the spending should be increased, thus, he makes the assumption that the amount spent on healthcare is too low. In second example, the answer is ‘Assumption Not Made’ – even though the statement is arguing that more spending is required, there is nothing about the current level of population health, and whether it is in decline. In the third example the assumption was made (Assumption Made), for the statement is saying that better healthcare is needed in order to keep people healthy.



Deductions are conclusions reached logically by examining premises. CTTs focus on your ability to tell correct deductions from incorrect ones.


EXAMPLE: The library stocks books in specific areas. These are ‘Classics’, ‘Law’, ‘20th Century History’ and ‘True Crime’. Gemma is currently studying Classics and Psychology, and need to find a few books on both.

1. Gemma will be able to find the books that she needs here.

2. Some of the books that Gemma needs will be available in this library, but not all.

3. Gemma will not find any useful books in this library.


In first case Conclusion Does Not Follow because the library doesn’t contain any psychology books. In the second, Conclusion Follows, for the library contains classics books but not psychology ones, thus, only partially Gemma’s needs will be satisfied. And in the third one, Conclusion Does Not Follow because since Gemma needs classics and they are available, at least one of her subjects is covered.



Interpretations are conclusions made from carefully evaluating data, and figuring out what logically follow from it. This section is the most likely to include mathematics and scientific data.


EXAMPLE: The pitch of sounds can be measured by their frequency, such as Hertz (Hz) and Kilohertz (kHz). It is known that human beings can hear sounds in the range of around 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Human speech tends to sit in the range of 1,000 Hz to 5,000 Hz. For comparison, elephants are able to hear sounds in the range of 17 Hz to 10,500 Hz.

1. Humans cannot hear most of the noises made by bats, which occupy the range of 10 kHz to 160 kHz.

2. Humans cannot hear sounds at the frequency of 15 kHz.

3. Elephants can hear a wider range of frequencies than human beings.


In the first example Conclusion Follows, for humans can hear up to 20,000 Hz (or 20 kHz), so bat sounds from the range 10-20 kHz. Because bats make noises up to 160 kHz, most of them cannot be heard by humans. In second case, Conclusion Does Not Follow, because humans can hear up to 20 kHz (20,000 Hz). And in the third example the answer is Conclusion Does Not Follow. Humans have range of 19,800 Hz (20 Hz - 20,000 Hz), whereas elephants 10,483 Hz (17 Hz - 10,500 Hz), therefore, human beings can hear a wider range of frequencies than elephants.



Evaluating arguments. A critical thinker needs to be able to evaluate arguments by figuring out how strong they are by comparing them to the information they are based on. I remember that when I took Watson Glaser two years ago for the first time (as a part of the application to Magic Circle – I was young, unprepared and apparently naïve), I truly hated this section and found it extremely difficult! Now, it is probably my favourite part of CTTs, and I find it quite easy to evaluate the arguments. The difference between those two girls is PRACTICE! And some basic knowledge about the fallacies that are usually used in the test. You can read more about the logical fallacies here.


EXAMPLE: Should nurses trained in the UK, and funded by the NHS, be required to work for a certain period of time within the UK public sector before being allowed to work in the private sector or overseas?

1. Yes – the NHS funds many of these nurses through training, so they should have to give back for a fixed period of time. This further experience would benefit them as well.

2. No – this denies them of their freedom where to work. They might as well be in a work camp.

3. Yes – I find it ridiculous that taxpayers’ money is spent on training these nurses, only for them to go overseas.


The first argument is Strong – it states a good reason, and additionally acknowledges that the experience benefits the nurses as well. The second argument is Weak – this is a false equivalence, the type of fallacy. Being required to work in the UK is nothing like a work camp, so the comparison made makes the circumstances sound worse than they actually are. And the last argument should be evaluated as Weak, for it is an argument from incredulity – the speaker attached their own shock of the situation in order to make it seem more unacceptable.



Resources


Read about what CTTs are and how to prepare for them. There are plenty of tutorials on Youtube (Types of Questions, Answers to Sample Questions) that will help you develop your critical thinking skills. You might also find plenty of free practice tests online, like here or here, or even free online courses like this one. I also recommend you some books that are available on Amazon: Critical Thinking Tests and Critical Thinking Skills. Additionally, have a look at this website.


Good luck!







If you’ve got any questions, please contact me via e-mail or dm on Instagram.

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