Unraveling the effects of critical thinking instructions, practice, and self-explanation on students’ reasoning performance

Anita Heijltjes*, Tamara van Gog, Jimmie Leppink, Fred Paas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Acquisition of critical thinking skills is considered an important goal in higher education, but it is still unclear which specific instructional techniques are effective for fostering it. The main aim of this study was to unravel the impact of critical thinking instructions, practice, and self-explanation prompts during practice, on students’ reasoning skills that are prone to bias. Another aim was to replicate findings regarding the influence of dispositions on reasoning skills prior to and after instructions, and to explore the relationship between reasoning performance, confidence, and invested mental effort prior to and after instructions. Economics students (N = 152) were randomly assigned to one of six conditions in a pre-test post-test control group design. Only participants exposed to critical thinking instruction improved their reasoning skills; practice and self-explanation prompts did not improve reasoning compared to instructions only. Dispositions (i.e., actively open-minded thinking) correlated positively with pre- and post-test reasoning scores; however, the instructions were equally effective for all participants. Confidence scores correlated negatively with invested mental effort. Instructions affected invested mental effort but not confidence ratings on the post-test. This study showed that first year economics students could enhance their reasoning performance by means of a short and relatively straightforward instructional intervention that was equally effective for all participants regardless of their disposition scores, which is promising for longer-term educational interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-506
Number of pages20
JournalInstructional Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Confidence
  • Critical thinking instructions
  • Dispositions
  • Mental effort
  • Reasoning


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