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Thursday 14-May-2015
【The Standard:Study in the UK】The bigger picture

Hong Kong students attending Western universities become aware that they need to question, evaluate, reflect and use their judgement where necessary. However, changing a mindset which has been shaped over a number of years in a wholly different education system is not quite so simple. Critical thinking is also a misleading term in that students have to do more than merely criticise views of other authors.


Critical thinking is fundamental to successful essay-based assessments. It is difficult for Hong Kong students to adjust to established Western models and flourish in coursework which requires a great deal of independent thinking and critical analysis... 

When I enrolled on the pre-sessional course at a very reputable British university, I had a vague notion of critical thinking and that I would have to convert from predominantly impersonal fact-based writing to one of argument and careful consideration of various authors’ viewpoints. English for Academic Purposes courses need to be taken seriously by students, and I feel that universities need to pay more attention to the teaching of critical thinking conventions. It is all very well teaching essay writing structure, but, as many students I maintain contact with have stated, institutions are perhaps not doing enough explicit teaching of critical thinking. International students need year-round support classes which address and revise the matter, rather than focusing on language and grammar work.


Taking risks

Hong Kong students need to realise that taking risks and getting out of their comfort zones will reap huge rewards. Teachers have nothing but admiration for international students who challenge arguments and bring a sense of individuality to their writing.


 Tips for being “critical thinkers”

Critical thinking entails more than criticising sources and giving your opinions. You need to weigh up contrasting evidence from the literature, be sensitive to points of view which you may not necessarily agree with and then reach a conclusion.


Secondly, get to know question terms such as ‘discuss’ and ‘evaluate’. They very often ask for a more balanced argument with opportunities to bring in critical thinking skills later in the essay based on the evidence considered. 


Thirdly, students need to be more active critical-thinkers during the note-taking stage of essay writing. Use coloured highlighters for views which you agree or disagree with, or sources which can be challenged for their reliability. It is very difficult to develop your “voice” at the drafting stage. 


The importance of critical thinking

I believe that students need to understand the bigger picture by valuing self-development as learners which results from critical thinking. High-scoring essays are not the be all and end all. Graduates who can transfer their critical thinking skills from paper to the workplace are highly sought after.

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Education Experts

Samuel Chan, the winner of Alumni Awards 2017, is the founder of Britannia. He had studied in the UK since the age of 9 for 15 years and achieved his master degree in International Political Economy at University of Warwick. Now he shares his experiences and professional advice in education columns in Hong Kong’s major newspapers.


Mabel Chan is the Principal Consultant of Britannia. Having studied in both the UK and the US, she is an expert in school matching for overseas education. She writes education columns for Sing Tao Daily and The Standard, and answers questions arising from parents and students patiently.


MB Cheung, our senior consultant, has been writing education columns for major local newspapers for more than 25 years. With his experience and unique insights, he shares a variety of tips and advice on overseas education for the readers (and DSE students)

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