University of Western Sydney: study of critical thinking reveals positive outcomes for IB students

Singapore, June 11, 2014—As the final year of secondary education draws to a close, many parents wonder just how much their children learned in a year dominated by university admissions testing, the university application and selection process and many social and recognition activities.

Today, the International Baccalaureate (IB) releases new research findings that provide insight into what IB Diploma Programme students have learned. An investigation into critical thinking and learning outcomes associated with Theory of Knowledge, the Diploma Programme’s signature course that centers on critical thinking and inquiry into the process of knowing, shows that Diploma Programme students are more confident in their ability to use critical thinking skills than their non-IB peers, and that DP students envision their future educational success more positively.

“Critical thinking skills are essential in learning most subjects and in growing as an inquirer and an individual,” said IB Asia Pacific Director Ian Chambers. “These TOK-related findings demonstrate that IB students gain an important life skill in the Diploma Programme—one that differentiates them from their peers, that reinforces their confidence and contributes to their success at university.”

IB alumni successfully use critical thinking skills

Researchers at the University of Western Sydney implemented two widely used measures [the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the Self-Efficacy for Critical Thinking Scale] to assess and compare critical thinking skills of DP graduates and non-DP graduates who were completing their first year of university study. In comparing the two groups, researchers found that:

  • DP alumni demonstrated more confidence in their ability to use critical thinking skills than non-IB students, to a statistically significant degree.
  • DP graduates out-scored non-DP graduates in all three measures which appraised their post-secondary success. On each measure, differences between the mean scores of the two groups were statistically significant, with IB students expressing greater confidence in the outcomes of their marks and in their ability to complete their university studies.
  • DP graduates scored significantly higher on average on the Australia Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) than their non-IB peers. Their high ATAR scores allowed DP graduates greater freedom in choosing a university.

DP students learn critical thinking

Australian DP students enrolled in TOK were assessed with the Critical Thinking Strategies Scale to determine their use of critical thinking skills when confronted with new information. IB students enrolled in TOK demonstrated that they:

  • Were more than ‘moderately likely’ to use a range of critical thinking skills.
  • Had achieved a clear gain in Year 12 in their critical thinking skills from Year 11.
  • Scored toward the higher end of the measurement scales in using critical thinking skills.
  • Used an array of critical thinking skills in Year 12.

This study supports earlier findings (Coates, Rosicka and MacMahon-Ball) that indicated that the DP fosters skills useful for university success, including critical thinking. Find this new study, “Theory of knowledge (TOK): Exploring learning outcomes, benefits and perceptions” online at

About the International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a not-for profit foundation that offers four high quality and challenging education programmes for a worldwide community of schools. IB programmes have gained a reputation for rigour and high academic standards, for preparing students for life in a globalized 21st century and for developing citizens who will create a better, more peaceful world. Currently, more than one million IB students attend nearly 3,700 schools in 144 countries. In Asia Pacific approximately 16,000 students are enrolled in the Diploma Programme.

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