Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Frances A. Maratos,
University of Derby,
Derby, UK


Predicting university success in psychology is limited at best. Recent research has found that the subjects studied at A-level and the grades obtained did not predict performance at University. Whilst GCSE grades (in particular those achieved in Science & English) were significant predictors of final year marks, almost 50% of the total variability remained unexplained by academic factors used in the study. One explanation for this unexplained variance could be the emphasis on critical thinking skills at degree level psychology to achieve high grades, but the emphasis on factual based information at A-level to achieve such grades. In consequence, it is perhaps surprising that the relationship between critical thinking skills, route to higher education (HE) and degree level performance has received limited investigation. Thus in the current study these variables were investigated.

Baseline date on perceived critical thinking skills and route to HE were obtained from 65 first year undergraduate psychology students during their first week of University classes. Students who took part in the study were those enrolled on the first year module ‘Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience’ (ICN). They were further asked if they would consent to the use of their grades in the ICN module being used in the research. Importantly, for this module the assessment had two components; a factual based multiple choice test and a critical thinking coursework based assignment.

The results revealed no significant difference in perceived critical thinking skills dependent upon whether an individual had attained their place via traditional A-level qualifications or some other means (p>0.50). Although perceived critical thinking skills were correlated with GCSE math grade obtained (p<0.01) and neared significance for GCSE science grade obtained (p=0.07); such skills were not, however, correlated with A-level points tariff achieved. With respect to performance on the ICN assessments, perceived critical thinking skills were not correlated with performance on the factual based test (p=0.096); although performance on this test was correlated with grade obtained in GCSE science (p<0.001), GCSE English (p<0.01) and when HE ‘prior learning’ had last occurred. Performance on the factual based test further neared significance for correlations with GCSE Science (p=0.056), age (p=0.056) and A-level point tariff achieved (0.071). Data pertaining to the critical thinking based assignment has yet to be investigated but will be presented at the conference.

In conclusion, consistent with previous research, preliminary results reveal that GCSE performance is a better predictor of degree level performance in the first year than A-level performance or indeed alternative routes to HE (e.g. Access, B-TEC). Whilst the latter is perhaps expected (in light of recent research), the present study further highlights the relationship between performance at GCSE and critical thinking skills. As degree performance has been linked to GCSE performance, future research within this field should elucidate whether critical thinking skills can also account for some of the variance in predicting university success. Indeed, within this presentation the relationship between students’ perceived critical thinking skills and actual performance on a critical thinking assignment will be presented.

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