MCDS Seniors sit for IB exams: Critical Thinking Is a Prerequisite

As our Grade 12 students finish their high school career by taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) examinations over the next two weeks, we as teachers at Madison Country Day School are reminded of the important focus the IB exams place on critical thinking.

Critical thinking ranks among the World Economic Forum top skills required to be a productive and contributing member of a work environment in the year of 2020. For the full list of these skills, please see this Forbes article.

What is critical thinking? I like to explain it this way: The term “critical” finds its roots in the Greek verb “krinein,” meaning to judge or evaluate. The term “thinking” implies the use of reason, meaning that critical thinking is to analyze any idea, statement, or solution as an “evaluation based on reason.”

To give you an idea how MCDS in conjunction with the IB curriculum fosters critical thinking, one need not look further than sample IB exam questions.

Allow me to cite some sample questions from the IB History Higher level exam—an exam for which the majority of MCDS students sit.

Under the topic of “causes, practices and effects of war,” take a look at these sample questions:

  • To what extent do you agree with the view that war accelerates social change?

  • “Peace settlements create conditions for new conflicts.” With reference to at least two settlements explain to what extent you agree with this statement.

Under the topic of “The Cold War,” please see these questions:

  • In what ways, and for what reasons, was the Middle East important in the Cold War?

  • To what extent were Soviet policies responsible for the outbreak and development of the Cold War between 1945 and 1949?

Looking at these IB exam questions, it is abundantly clear that our students do not learn their subjects as mere facts—rather, our students are constantly analytically processing the content they are learning, employing higher order thinking skills such as inferring, synthesizing, and evaluating.

Looking at these exam questions, it is maybe even more so abundantly clear that these are not the typical questions found on standardized testing—these are questions that require thoughtful answers by our students, whose exams are assessed by qualified external examiners (several MCDS teachers are among 8,500 officially-sanctioned IB examiners around the world).

In one of our 2018 faculty summer reading books, Creating Cultures of Thinking, the author, Ron Ritchhart, argues that the quality of an education should not be measured in a standardized test format, but rather in the “habits of mind, intellectual passions, and thinking dispositions” being championed in a school setting. He discovered these qualities in six broad characteristics: “Curiosity, open-mindedness, being strategic, having a healthy skepticism, being a truth seeker, and being metacognitive.” He goes on to write that the IB Learner Profile traits match up well, specifically promoting students as “inquirers, thinkers, communicators, and risk-takers” and encouraging students to be “open-minded, reflective, balanced, caring, principled and knowledgeable.”

As we greet our Grade 12 students over the next two weeks, let us all reflect and marvel at the work of our teachers have completed in terms of guiding our students to be critical thinkers. We also congratulate our students for internalizing the traits of the IB Learner Profile, culminating in their readiness to begin higher education as well-developed critical thinkers.

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