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Understanding the Relationship Between Critical Thinking and Job Performance

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Understanding the Relationship Between
Critical Thinking and Job Performance
Kingsley C. Ejiogu
Zhiming Yang
John Trent
Mark Rose
May 2006
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Understanding the Relationship Between
Critical Thinking and Job Performance
Abstract
This study was conducted to evaluate the relationship between a measure of critical thinking ability and job
performance as measured by supervisors’ ratings. Results indicated that the measure of critical thinking
ability is related to several important aspects of job performance.
This paper presents the results of a study examining the relationship between critical thinking ability, as
measured by total scores on the Watson-Glaser Critical Appraisal Short Form (Watson-Glaser), and job-
related performance. A review of research literature suggests that the bulk of published studies on the
Watson-Glaser relate to its use to predict performance in a variety of educational settings. For example,
Gadzella, Stacks, Stephens, & Masten, (2005) found the Watson-Glaser to be “a good instrument to
measure critical thinking for students pursuing the teaching career” (p.12). In the study by Gadzella et. al.,
the researchers found a correlation of .31 between total scores on the Watson-Glaser and course grades.
In their studies of three freshmen classes in a Pennsylvania nursing program, Behrens (1996) found that
Watson-Glaser scores correlated .59, .53, and .51 respectively, with semester GPA. Similarly, in a study of
428 educational psychology students, Williams (2003) found that Watson-Glaser total scores correlated .42
and .57 with mid-term and final exam scores, respectively.
Ejiogu, Kingsley C., Yang, Zhiming, Trent, John, and Rose, Mark (2006). Understanding the Relationship
Between Critical Thinking and Job Performance. Poster session presented at the 21st annual conference
of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Dallas, TX, May 5-7.
Email: Kingsley_Ejiogu@harcourt.com
The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Nishidha Goel with the final version of this paper.
Copyright © 2008 Pearson Education, Inc. or its affiliate(s). All rights reserved.
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Critical thinking ability plays a vital role in
academic instruction (e.g., College Board, as
cited in Gadzella, Stacks, Stephens, & Masten,
2005), as well as in occupations that require
careful analytical thinking to perform essential
job functions (e.g., Spector, Schneider, Vance,
& Hezlett, 2000). Kudish and Hoffman (2002),
in a study of 71 participants in a leadership
assessment center, reported that scores on the
Watson-Glaser correlated .58 with ratings on
Analysis and .43 with ratings on Judgment. The
ratings on Analysis and Judgment obtained by
Kudish and Hoffman were based on performance
of the participants across assessment center
exercises including a coaching meeting, in-basket
simulation, and a leaderless group discussion.
In a study of managerial and executive-level
participants in an assessment center, Spector,
Schneider, Vance, & Hezlett, (2000) evaluated the
relationship between Watson-Glaser scores and
performance in the assessment center exercises.
Spector, Schneider, Vance, & Hezlett, found that
Watson-Glaser scores significantly correlated
with overall scores in six of eight assessment
center exercises, and related more strongly to
exercises involving primarily cognitive problem-
solving skills (e.g., with in-basket exercise scores,
r = .26, p < .05) than exercises involving a greater
level of interpersonal skills (e.g., with a coaching
exercise, r = .16, p < .05).
Another indication of the importance of critical
thinking to effective performance across various
occupations and job levels can be found in
O*Net OnLine (2005). In a search of the O*Net
OnLine database, the authors found that, for
occupational positions like Government Service
Executives and Private Sector Executives, critical
thinking received standardized importance
ratings of 92 and 79, respectively (on a scale of
0 – 100); the occupation Program Directors had
a standardized importance rating of 76 attached
to critical thinking. For various manager positions
(e.g., Compensation & Benefits Managers,
Construction Managers, Financial Managers,
Marketing Managers, Storage & Distribution
Managers, Training & Development Managers),
the standardized importance rating attached to
critical thinking ranged from 76 to 88. In such
professional positions as Actuaries, Chiro-
practors, Emergency 911 Dispatchers, Industrial/
Organizational Psychologists, Management
Analysts, Registered Nurses, standardized
importance ratings attached to critical thinking
ranged from 81 to 94. Other examples from O*Net
regarding the rated importance of critical thinking
to a variety of occupations include Actors (73),
Concierges (74), Employment Interviewers (73),
Fashion Designers (79), First-Line Supervisors
Customer Service (79), Security Guards (74),
and Tax Preparers (73).
In their book on Staffing Organizations:
Contemporary Practice and Theory, Ployhart,
Schneider, and Schmitt (2006) highlighted the
need for researchers to engage in more current
efforts to update cognitive ability tests and conduct
new studies of the validity of such tests as an
important predictor of job performance. According
to Ployhart et. al., with few exceptions, “not many
primary studies have added to the database that
support the validity of cognitive ability since the
1970’s” (p.415). Consequently, the main purpose
of this paper is to repor t the findings of a study
on the criterion-related validity of Watson-Glaser
total scores as a predictor of supervisor-rated
performance of job incumbents.
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Method
e main research questions in this study were:
(1) is the 40-item Watson-Glaser test a reliable instrument to measure critical thinking
ability in the workplace, and (2) is critical thinking ability as measured by the Watson-Glaser
related to job performance as measured by supervisor ratings?
Research Questions
Participants
The participants were 84 job incumbents working
as Analysts (a professional-level individual
contributor position) in a government agency.
The gender composition of the par ticipants
was 49 (58%) males and 25 (29.8%) females,
with 10 providing no information regarding their
gender. Out of the participants that provided
information regarding their highest educational
qualifications, 19 reported having a Masters
degree or higher qualification, 7 reported
having done some post-graduate work, while 12
reported having a Bachelors degree. Seventy-
nine of the participants provided ethnic group
information as follows: 72 (85.7%) White (non-
Hispanic), 3 (3.6%) Black/African American, 3
(3.6%) Hispanic/Latino (a), and 1 (1.2%) Asian/
Pacific Islander.
Materials
The 40-item Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking
Appraisal Short Form (Watson & Glaser,
1994) was used to measure the critical thinking
ability of the participants. The 40-item Watson
Glaser was published in 1994 to enhance the
use of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking
Appraisal for selection and developmental
purposes in a range of work settings, and to
assess critical thinking skills in an educational
context. According to Watson and Glaser, the
Watson-Glaser is composed of the following
five tests: (1) Inference discriminating among
degrees of truth or falsity of inferences drawn
from given data; (2) Recognition of Assumptions
recognizing unstated assumptions or
presuppositions in given statements or
assertions; (3) Deduction – determining whether
certain conclusions necessarily follow from
information in given statements or premises; (4)
Interpretation – weighing evidence and deciding
if generalizations or conclusions based on the
given data are warranted; (5) Evaluation of
Arguments – distinguishing between arguments
that are strong and relevant and those that are
weak or irrelevant to a particular issue. Each
Watson-Glaser test is composed of scenarios
similar to those typically found in a variety of
settings, including the workplace, the school, and
other organizational settings. Each scenario is
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5
followed by a number of items for the participant
to respond to, with response options ranging
from 2 for some items to 5 for other items. The
Watson-Glaser score used as the measure of
critical thinking ability was the total score (ranging
from 0 to 40) derived from the summation of the
scores on the five tests. Coefficient alpha and
test-retest reliability coefficients of the total
score on the 40-item Watson-Glaser test had
both been estimated to be .81 (Watson & Glaser,
1994).
Job performance was measured using a 21-item
questionnaire independently completed on each
participant by the par ticipant’s work supervisor.
Nineteen items required ratings on job-relevant
behaviors while two items required ratings on
overall performance and overall potential. All
the behaviors were derived from O*Net Online
descriptions of jobs similar to the target job.
Procedure
The participants completed the computer-
administered Watson-Glaser as part of a
larger validation and normative study. The
data were collected over a six-month period in
2004. The participants signed consent forms
with the understanding that their data would
be used purely for research purposes. The job
supervisor of each par ticipant provided ratings
using the performance rating form supplied by
the researchers. The performance rating form
contained 21 behavioral items. Nineteen of these
items were behaviors regarding the following
three composite areas that were relevant to most
professional, managerial, and executive jobs:
Analysis and Problem Solving, Judgment and
Decision Making, and Professional/Technical
Knowledge and Expertise. The ratings of
behaviors in the above three areas ranged from 1
= “needs improvement” through 4 = “acceptable”
to 7 = “outstanding”. A “Not Applicable” rating
was also available for behaviors that supervisors
considered irrelevant to the job. Additionally, the
supervisors rated their respective subordinates
on a single-item Overall Potential using a
5-point scale ranging from 1 = “no higher than
current job” to 5 = “more than two levels above
current job.” The researchers also examined a
composite variable – Overall Performance – that
they composed by summing the ratings on 19
performance behaviors in the questionnaire.
Data were analyzed by calculating correlation
coefficients for the relationships of critical thinking
with job performance. Participant data were
analyzed for subordinates whose supervisors
reported (a) having supervised them for at least
four months and, (b) that the supervisors were
at least “knowledgeable” of the job performance
of the subordinate. The observed criterion-
related validity coefficients were corrected for
unreliability in the criterion (Schmidt & Hunter,
1998).
The Watson-Glaser total scores of the 84 participants ranged from 21 to 40, with a mean of 32.8 and a
standard deviation of 4.6.
Results
Criterion Dimension N Mean SD r (corrected for r (uncorrected for
criterion criterion
unreliability) unreliability)
1. Analysis & Problem Solving 64 38.3 6.6 .52 .40
2. Judgement & Decision Making 59 32.8 5.8 .52 .40
3. Professional / Technical
Knowledge and Expertise 65 17.1 2.4 .48 .37
4. Overall Performance 66 100.4 14.3 .51 .39
5. Overall Potential 64 3.2 1.2 .32 .25*
Criterion Dimension (Supervisory Ratings of Job Performance Behaviors)
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Evidence of Reliability
The internal consistency reliability of the total
score on the 40-item Watson-Glaser test, was
.85 when corrected for restriction of range using
the correction formula by Allen and Yen (1979,
p.195). This result suggests “good reliability”
(U.S. Department of Labor, 1999, p. 3-3) of this
test as a measure of critical thinking ability. The
uncorrected reliability coefficient was .76.
Relationship Between Watson-Glaser
Total Scores and Job Performance
Out of the 84 participants, the researchers
examined the relationship between Watson-
Glaser scores and on-the-job performance of 68
participants for whom there were performance
ratings from their supervisors. This group of 68
participants had a mean Watson-Glaser score
of 32.9 with a standard deviation of 5.8. As
shown in Table 1 regarding the criterion-related
validity coefficients corrected for unreliability in
the criterion, the Watson-Glaser total scores
correlated .52 with performance ratings on
each of the two performance dimensions of (1)
Analysis and Problem Solving and (2) Judgment
and Decision Making. The results in Table 1
also show that the Watson-Glaser total scores
correlated .48 with performance ratings of job
behaviors dealing with Professional/Technical
Knowledge and Expertise. The correlation of
the Watson-Glaser scores with the Overall
Performance composite was .51, while the
correlation with the single-item Overall Potential
was .32 (see Table 1). Table 1 also shows
the correlation coefficients uncorrected for
unreliability in the criterion.
Table 1. Means and standard deviations of criterion variables, and correlation coefcients between Watson-Glaser total
scores and supervisors’ job-performance ratings of participants.
Note 1: * p < .05 for Overall Potential. For the other four correlation
coefcients, p < .01
Note 2: The column labeled N shows the number of participants in
the group or sub-sample whose data were in the results reported. In
summing item scores from the performance questionnaire to yield
criterion dimensions, cases with missing values were dropped.
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Discussion
This study attempted to examine the internal
consistency reliability and validity of the
40-item Watson-Glaser among job incumbents.
The corrected internal consistency reliability
of .85 shown in this study indicates that the
Watson-Glaser total score possesses good
internal consistency reliability for this sample of
job incumbents.
Previous researchers have reported higher
internal consistency reliability coefficients of the
Watson-Glaser. For example, Gadzella, Baloglu,
& Stephens (2002) reported internal consistency
reliability coefficients of .91 for 30 men, .83 for
105 women, and .91 for 135 students majoring
in Education. Since the reliability coefficient is
a correlation coefficient, the relatively high and
narrow range of ability among the participants
in this study might have attenuated the internal
consistency reliability obtained in this study,
resulting in the uncorrected reliability coefficient
of .76. Samples with restricted variances can
lead to reliability coefficients being spuriously
low (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994).
The results indicate that critical thinking ability
as measured by the 40-item Watson-Glaser is
significantly related to job performance. All the
criterion-related validity coefficients reported
in Table 1 suggest that the 40-item Watson-
Glaser could be regarded as “very beneficial”
(U.S. Department of Labor, 1999, p. 3-10) for
use in relating critical thinking ability to the
following aspects of performance: Analysis
and Problem Solving, Judgment and Decision
Making, Professional/Technical Knowledge and
Expertise, and Overall Performance. The results
in Table 1 also indicate that the Watson-Glaser
test is “likely to be useful” (U.S. Department
of Labor, 1999, p. 3-10) in relating critical
thinking ability to Overall Potential. There is
also convergent validity evidence from previous
studies relating the Watson-Glaser to other
cognitive ability tests. Such evidence can be
found in Watson and Glaser (1994) showing
significant relationships between scores of
mid-level management applicants on the
Watson-Glaser and their scores on the following
tests: Wesman Personnel Classification Test,
Verbal (.66), Employee Aptitude Survey – Verbal
Reasoning (.51), Employee Aptitude Survey
Verbal Comprehension (.50), Employee Aptitude
Survey – Numerical Reasoning (.41), Employee
Aptitude Survey – Space Visualization (.26). For
a sample of executive management applicants,
the correlation between their scores on the
Watson-Glaser and their scores on Differential
Aptitude Tests Abstract Reasoning was .40
(Watson & Glaser, 1994).
Many organizations typically use selection tests
in their hiring process. The results obtained in
this study suggest that in jobs such as those
of Analysts where critical thinking ability is
important for successful performance, the
Watson-Glaser is likely to be beneficial as par t
of the external or internal selection process for
the job. However, since successful performance
typically depends on several factors and aspects
related to the job, no single test is sufficient to
cover all the aspects of performance. As such,
combining information from the Watson-Glaser
with other sources of information (for example,
interviews, work samples, and records of past
performance) will likely enhance the validity of
the selection process.
Of course, it is important to note that the practical
value of a selection test depends not only on its
validity but also on such factors as the base rate
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for success on the job (that is, the proportion of
people who would be successful in the absence
of any selection tool), the selection ratio (that is,
the ratio of applicants to the number of vacancies
to be filled), adverse impact associated with the
test, the cost of hiring error, and the cost of the
test itself (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997; Cascio,
1997; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998; U.S. Department
of Labor, 1999).
Limitations and Suggestions for Future
Research
One of the difficulties of conducting real-life
validation studies is getting enough of the
needed participants to provide the required data.
Consequently, this study was challenged by the
constraints of getting otherwise busy employees
to take the Watson-Glaser for research purposes
and for the supervisors of these employees to
also independently provide performance ratings
on their subordinates.
Some researchers might be interested in how
examinee scores on the Watson-Glaser relate to
national norms. The focus and constraints of this
study, however, necessitated the use of a sample
that was more occupation-specific than national
in scope. When using cognitive ability tests for
purposes of talent assessment, comparing
scores of candidates against a norm population
of relevant occupation groups is usually more
applicable than using the general census-type
“national norms” for such an occupation-specific
purpose.
Given the relevance of critical thinking in the
employment context, as well as the popularity
of the Watson-Glaser as a measure of critical
thinking ability, the organizational literature
would benefit from more published studies that
relate critical thinking ability to performance.
For example, in addition to more concurrent
validation studies, it also would be beneficial for
future researches to try and publish predictive
validation studies relating scores on critical
thinking tests to subsequent performance.
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9
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References
... Critical thinking skills should be measured over time, just as instructor pilots conduct periodic check rides for their students (Davitch et al., 2017, p. 63). The WGCTA has been used to predict performance in a variety of educational settings (Ejiogu et al., 2006). Recent research "finds that cognitive aptitude tests, particularly critical thinking exams, ... are among the strongest and most consistent predictors of success across academic and work settings" (Neck, 2016, p. 1). ...
... The evidence provided in the Manual (2012, pp. 41-42) and in (Ejiogu, Yang, Trent, & Rose, 2012) for the W-G's criterion validity makes it understandable why the test is being used so widely for hiring and promotion purposes. But demonstrable correlations between W-G scores and job success may very well hold because of a correlation between job performance and, e.g., mere test-taking abilities in general. ...
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Introduction to measurement theory
  • M J Allen
  • W M Yen
Allen, M.J., & Yen, W.M. (1979). Introduction to measurement theory. Monterrey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, Form S for education majors
  • B M Gadzella
  • J Stacks
  • R C Stephens
  • W G Masten
Gadzella, B.M. Stacks, J., Stephens, R.C., & Masten, W.G. (2005). Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, Form S for education majors. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32, 9-12.
Selective characteristics of preservice professionals
  • B Holmgren
  • T Covin
Holmgren, B. & Covin, T. (1984). Selective characteristics of preservice professionals.