A-level students to receive lessons in answering back

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The Independent Online

A-Level students will for the first time be given lessons in how to think.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, is planning to introduce an A-level exam in critical thinking, which students will be able to take from September 2005.

The idea is to help them to develop their own arguments and to take apart the contentions put forward by others. It should also be of use in helping them to dissect the black arts of the spin doctors.

The new exam has been given the blessing of David Miliband, the School Standards minister, and Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector who is heading the inquiry into exam reform.

Mr Miliband believes it will bring sixth-form studies in Britain into line with the rest of Europe, where critical thinking skills are a part of the International Baccalaureate. The move could pave the way for a similar baccalaureate here.

Mr Tomlinson has pointed out that universities are worried current students may have a great depth of knowledge in their own subject but lack basic skills such as reasoning and the ability to be analytical. The subject has already been pioneered at AS-level by one examination board, the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Art (OCR), but examiners believe it will be crucial in helping university admissions tutors to decide on the potential of future students now that the numbers presenting themselves with three A grades are so high.

They also believe the exam should not only be seen as a subject for high-flyers. One exam board official said: "It's not just for clever people only. It's a chance for those who don't get excited by, say, science to develop a talent that they would not otherwise be able to show."

The QCA is consulting all the boards on drawing up a syllabus for the new exam.

In its specification for the subject, the OCR says: "Critical thinking is a fundamental academic competency. Most teachers develop their own candidates' critical thinking ability - the ability to interpret, analyse and evaluate ideas and arguments - but they do this in the process of teaching their particular subject."

TEST RUN

Question: The 'greenhouse effect' is caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Trees help to work against this, by absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Because trees are so important, every time our tree felling company cuts down a tree, it plants another one in its place. In fact, as these saplings grow, they use up three times as much carbon dioxide as mature trees. Therefore, far from making the 'greenhouse effect' worse, our company's activities are helping to counteract it.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the above argument?

A. By recycling paper, we could avoid altogether the need to cut down trees for paper.

B. The results of tree felling cause more carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere than the saplings absorb.

C. It would reduce the greenhouse effect even more if the company planted new trees without cutting down any trees at all.

D. Besides contributing to the greenhouse effect, the removal of mature trees damages the environment in other ways - for example, by removing the habitats of animals.

Highlight here for the answer: B

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