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The Importance of Critical Thinking in AP English

Date:2012-08-24 05:52Source:unknown Author:admin Click: times

Advanced Placement English Language Course: the importance of critical thinking

    

      “I think we always ought to entertain opinions with a measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people to believe dogmatically any philosophy, not even mine.” This statement by the well-known philosopher Bertrand Russell is part of an AP essay question in which students consider the relationship between doubt and certainty. It is also representative of the kind of mind frame the AP course promotes.

     Students are required to be in a critical frame of mind when writing the exam. But what exactly is critical thinking? It includes some of the following basic components: a. looking at information within its proper context b. evaluating the logic and validity of an argument  c.  recognizing assumptions that are not directly stated in the text d. using language clearly and accurately. These skills can be developed by reading AP-level texts, discussing them, and writing responses to them.

     The sort of texts presented on AP exams vary widely in terms of time period and subject matter. History, philosophy, science, politics, and social studies are the main categories from which texts by world-renowned authors are selected for this exam. A student can be presented with anything ranging from an observation on animal life by Annie Dillard to an excerpt from a novel by Mark Twain. It is definitely an asset for a student to be well-read in a wide range of subjects and to be familiar with some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers. For example, if the text is by Mark Twain, and one of the questions asks about the tone of the passage, it helps to know that Mark Twain was a humorous writer.

     The exam itself is structured in the following way: there are 50-60 multiple choice questions based on four different texts, followed by three essay questions.

     The first essay question tests a student’s ability to analyze an argument and synthesize information: the student is presented with several excerpts that present diverging opinions on a certain question (for example, are high school students assigned too much homework?). The student must then write an essay presenting his/her view on the subject, using the evidence from the texts. There is no right or wrong opinion; the important thing is understanding the arguments and formulating one’s own point of view using the information given.

     The second essay involves analyzing a given text and its rhetorical purpose. The question is usually two-fold, namely: What is the author saying? How does achieve his intended effect? Here, excellent knowledge of the English language, understanding of context, tone, and rhetoric are the main requirements.

     The third question is based on a very short passage expressing an opinion about a certain subject (e.g. Is too much freedom a bad thing?) The student is asked to support, refute, or qualify the argument. The student can use evidence and examples from his reading or personal experience, and here of course it helps to be well-read because sophisticated examples are preferred.

     As British anthropologist and author Roger Lewin writes, “Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." Unfortunately, this is very typical of high school level education. However, at the AP level, it is definitely the problem-solving that takes center stage. Although knowledge is a huge asset, what will really lead to student success is the ability to solve problems and think on a deeper level. These skills are also key to success in University studies and in the workplace.

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