Critical Thinking and STEM Education

Image of student with electronic representations of STEM data in her head

Training for critical thinking remains a primary focus in worldwide STEM education programs

Today, more than ever, students (and their parents) prioritize learning the critical thinking and problem-solving skills required for today’s high tech jobs.  These skill sets are in growing in demand by employers in numerous industries.  Students are striving to be ready for the future of work.

An emphasis on strong problem-solving skills and intellectual inquisitiveness often starts in early STEM education programs, beginning in elementary and middle school.

Selective college prep programs now frequently use critical thinking assessment to identify applicants who are most likely to succeed in their programs—and to graduate prepared for higher level STEM programs.

Strong critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills have always been an advantage for graduate-level placement in health, engineering, science, information science, and business fields.  Identifying the strong candidates for admissions, who are more likely to improve these necessary skills, increases the success rates of professional programs.  Professional programs  further benefit when students are well prepared for their future jobs.

Measuring critical thinking in STEM education programs

Highly competitive STEM programs depend on our research-based, validated assessments delivered via state-of-the-science online testing technology, to screen applicants. 

Educators use Insight Assessment’s critical thinking and reasoning measurement tools to quickly, and easily, document the skills and mindset attributes of new applicants, current students and graduates.

Admission tools that generate objective information about skills in analytical thinking, interpretation, inference, evaluation, and explanation – namely, critical thinking – have proven to be powerful predictors of success at the graduate and undergraduate levels.  More than skills alone, strong applicants possess a positive mindset toward learning. This means attributes such as inquisitiveness, organization, foresight, maturity of judgment, open-mindedness, and truth-seeking are equally valued. 

In addition to the assessment of reasoning skills for the admission and/or advising of STEM students, our metrics are used in science education studies funded by NSF, DOE, RWJ and other scientifically driven educational agencies.

Deans, educational researchers, and teaching faculty in STEM programs also utilize one or more tailored critical thinking measures to assess learning outcomes achievement, for selective admissions, advising, accreditation self-studies and more.

Thinking well is the key to effective problem solving and decision making. Research has demonstrated that explicit teaching for thinking is both essential and effective for achieving learning outcomes aimed at training of reasoning skills.

Insight Assessment provides a comprehensive range of critical thinking tests that are used throughout the world. Each has been calibrated to measure the core reasoning skills and habits of mind that predict academic and professional success.


Instruments of choice for STEM education and NSF funded studies include:

  • The California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) is being used worldwide to identify students with the critical thinking skills needed to engage a STEM curriculum and develop competence in scientific reasoning. This in-depth, college-level instrument profiles eight cognitive areas and benchmarks students/applicants against their peers in undergraduate and graduate-level STEM education. Ask us about available options for high performing groups.
  • The California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory (CCTDI) assesses the seven mindset attributes internationally endorsed as essential for science-based inquiry and for success in STEM professions.
  • The STEM Thinking Skills Test measures quantitative reasoning skills at the college level. This assessment can be predictive of potential success in subjects such as mathematics, statistics, the natural and behavioral sciences, engineering, finance, economics, computer science, architecture, and information technology.
  • Keys & Strategies Critical Thinking Course Pack provides a comprehensive online training course to improve critical thinking skills and mindset attributes of college students and adult learners. A validated assessment is included.
  • The Test of Everyday Reasoning (TER) is widely used in 2-year colleges and student bridge initiatives aimed at supporting college entry. Recent National Science Foundation grants are using this assessment to examine the effectiveness of science education in pre-college and first year college students.
  • It is often paired with California Measure of Mental Motivation Level lll (CM3 lll) to measure the degree to which students are cognitively engaged and mentally motivated toward intellectual activities.
  • The EDUCATE INSIGHT assessments provide objective metrics on the strength and weaknesses of core components of K-12 student thinking skills, including mathematical reasoning, as well as documenting key thinking attributes such as learning orientation, creative problem solving and mental focus.
  • The Quant Q targets reasoning skills in relation to quantitative problems. The instrument is designed to measure one’s ability to think beyond the calculations themselves in order to reason to the proper applications of those calculations.

Insight Assessment tests of critical thinking skills rely on case-based scenarios to provide objective, valid and reliable measures of these essential problem-solving and decision-making skills. Comparison group percentiles are available for undergraduate and graduate programs. Many of our cost-effective testing tools are available in multiple languages with flexible online assessment administration and reporting.

Call us today at 650-697-5628 or contact us to learn how programs like yours are integrating these powerful, nationally benchmarked assessment tools into their undergraduate and graduate STEM education programs. 

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