Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Critical Thinking and Context: More Grrrr on Standardized Tests

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

In my PhD research, I argue (as do many others) that while critical thinking can be understood in generic ways, it is, in practice, very contextual and cultural. So you could probably teach someone some generic skills of analysis and argument, but they will need contextual knowledge to apply them in different, well, contexts, be they academic domains or personal situations. So a social scientist using a certain epistemology in their field may not necessarily know to think critically in, say, the analysis of a religious text or a medical report. These things are ones you get exposed to but aren’t an expert at. I see it all the time in my medical family. The way they think critically about medical information is very different from me. I also saw it when I did a course on gender in Islamic studies. It’s very different to think critically when u have years of exposure to Islam/Quran and can quickly build arguments from background knowledge (and also when ur a woman!) than otherwise. Also, if you aren’t from the field of Islamic studies but are Muslim your argument building is completely different (but possibly still quite valid) from a non-Muslim studying the field. ANYWAY

So my point re context was proven recently when I did a standardized critical thinking test and then again right now when I did another one! The first one was a US-based CT test where each question asked about something different and the test was timed. I took screenshots of questions I thought were tricky because of contextualization. That certain people would have more domain knowledge of the thing and that the domain knowledge could help or hinder their criticality. For example, there was a question about increasing price of steel based on increasing price of iron. The paragraph given offers no info on the fact that steel is made of iron. But if you know this, then you know there must be a correlation, right? But the passage doesn’t provide that info and you need to use what is in the passage. I have to assume we aren’t supposed to make that leap because they can’t be assuming we know it…but that process of trying to make that decision took up some of my brainspace, you know?

And today’s test was a UK-based one. Granted, I woke up in the middle of the night and decided to take it (it’s part of a study and deadline was approaching; i took it on my phone and the drag/drop questions were absolute torture – tested my creativity on how to scroll and drag drop on a phone – seriously creative maneuvering that no one will really notice!). Anyway here’s the thing. The ENTIRE test was based on ONE topic. The zero tolerance vs harm minimization alcohol policies in the US and Australia. You may argue the test is UK based so these are both policies outside of the UK test-takers context. You would be wrong.

Because as a Muslim who has really strong views on alcohol… Really? You couldn’t find a more universal topic to use on a test like this? I bet my entire attitude towards the test created a problem. But more than that the problem is my lack of familiarity with the topic.

But to be honest I wasn’t unfamiliar. I remember reading the book The Slap based in Australia and reading about alcohol policies for teens at the time because all the kids in that book were drinking in the presence of their parents (also all the parents were doing drugs foe recreation which seemed a little too exaggerated for my sensibilities? But ok).

But still. That was like one night of Wikipedia searches fascinated by difference in alcohol for teens policies in different Western countries. Don’t remember details but do remember that restrictions differed on the age of buying vs age of drinking under supervision.

In any case, of course I could follow the arguments and do the test. But the distance of the topic from my context coupled with my bias on it really made the test more uncomfortable for me than i think it needed to be. And I kept feeling my eyes glaze over on which policy is zero tolerance and which harm minimization (I know it’s obvious, but it’s different if it’s familiar to you than if it isn’t).

I assume most people come into the test with a bias anyway, whether they live in a context where this is normally discussed or not… I grew up in Kuwait where alcohol was absolutely illegal vs where I live now in Egypt where it’s legal and I am pretty sure 18 year old guys could get it in some places without being asked for ID (I assume legal age is 21. But haven’t checked).

Regardless. Very UN-universal topic choice. Very bad idea in my opinion. Not sure whom to speak to about this.

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