Doctoral Dissertations


Stephen Worth

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Robert L. Williams

Committee Members

Steve McCallum, Ralph Brockett, Julia Malia


The enhancement of college students' critical-thinking abilities has been a widely accepted goal among college educators for many years. As a prerequisite for entry into the teacher education program at the University of Tennessee, Psychoeducational Studies (PES) 210 (Psychoeducational Issues in Human Development) is in a unique position to assess and possibly improve the critical-thinking abilities of future teachers. This study sought to examine the importance of critical thinking as a predictor of course outcomes using Facione's (1986) conceptualization of critical thinking as the ability to construct and evaluate arguments.

The sample consisted of 292 volunteer students enrolled in three sections of Psychoeducational Studies 210 during both Fall and Spring semesters of the 1998-1999 academic year. The relationship of critical thinking to performance in the course was contrasted with that of two established predictor variables: class attendance and notetaking. Critical thinking was objectively measured through performance on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione, 1994). Structured notetaking was assessed by examining the completeness and accuracy of students' study guides in three sections: (1) readings, (2) videotape, and (3) instructor overview. Scores from all three sections were added to form the total notetaking scoreCourse attendance was recorded daily by a graduate teaching assistant in each of the three sections of the courseFive dependent variables regarding course performance were examined in this study: total course score, total multiple-choice exam score, total essay quiz score, total group problem-solving score, and a research project score. Multiple raters were used on subjectively assessed variables to ensure reliability.

The linkage between critical thinking and course performance was assessed through correlation matrices, multiple regression analyses, and group comparisons. Critical thinking was found to be a significant predictor of success on most measures of course performance, particularly multiple-choice examsAttendance was highly predictive of group problem-solving scores. Notetaking variables were significant predictors of success on all dependent variables. Although no gender and education level differences were found regarding attendance and critical thinking, there were significant differences in notetaking and course outcomes. Females and advanced students obtained higher notetaking scores and achieved higher scores on most course outcome variablesAlthough there were significant semester differences regarding notetaking variables and quiz scores, correlations and regression equations were similar for both groups.

Findings support the general hypothesis that critical-thinking ability, course attendance, and notetaking play an important role in predicting course outcomes in large undergraduate courses in education and psychology. Critical thinking and total notetaking were found to be the two best predictors of multiple-choice exam scores and overall course grades, accounting for approximately 50% of the variance for those dependent variables. Additionally, all independent variables explained relatively small amounts of the variance in quiz grades, problem-solving scores, and project scores. Future research should focus on (1) the role of critical thinking in program completion, (2) the relationship between dimensions of notetaking and course outcomes, (3) the distinction between critical thinking and the overall intellect as reflected in IQ measures, (4) developing strategies to promote to domain-specific critical thinking, and (5) the relative importance of critical thinking and domain-specific knowledge in predicting course performance.

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