2.2 Learning to think at a higher level

At university, you’re asked to engage in critical thinking. While you were expected to use your ability to reason in high school, there are likely to be changes in the way you'll apply your thinking skills at uni. Listen to what University of Auckland students say about the changes they've experienced.


Misha Garg, BE (Hons) (Biomedical Engineering), 3rd year 
At university my thinking skills have developed to make me more independent and a more efficient problem solver. At high school, because I did Cambridge examinations, a lot of those exams were just memorising what you needed to know and regurgitating it at exams, and that’s not the case at university. If you do that it’s really difficult to do well. Because university really challenges you, and it forces you to implement your knowledge and to actually solving a project or doing an assignment.

James Hucklesby, BSc (Biomedical Science), 3rdyear 
The big difference that I’ve found between high school and university is that you’re no longer expected just to be given something and then pass it back out again. I mean, if you look at NCEA, the excellence level thinking is applying ideas and coming up with that, and that’s just presumed at university. A lot of the stuff, especially in the sciences in first year, is very ‘learn this, learn this, learn this’. You know, a lot of it is presented to you, and then multi-choice answers, short answers you give them back again. But as you get on, you’re expected to read scientific papers, and they start asking questions, for which there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. So you’ve got to deal with that. 

Joshua Jeffrey, BEd (Teaching), 3rd year 
Critical thinking in university, there were a few things that I had to learn to do differently. Part of it is that some of the readings they give you contradict each other, so it’s having to think from a critical perspective: which one of these do I agree with, which do I disagree with and why? How do these challenge my worldview and why is that? It's thinking about your fundamental assumptions, especially at the Education campus where a lot of your readings are gonna be about things like how you treat children. You know, there is a lot in there that can fundamentally challenge you, so you need critical thinking to work out your own perspective and where it’s coming from and the perspective of the author and comparing those and trying to align those as much as possible.

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At high school, you may have gained good marks in your tests by recalling information accurately; however, memorising facts and concepts won't be enough at university. While you'll need to learn specific information to prepare for assessments, your lecturers will place a strong emphasis on you demonstrating higher-level thinking skills.

Initially, this may sound quite challenging, but there's no need to worry—you’ll learn to sharpen your thinking skills as you progress through your studies. A good way to start is to learn more about what thinking at university level involves and what is expected of you. 

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