Get Thinking!

Different kinds of thinking

A higher education course will provide many practical opportunities for developing thinking. These will be integrated into activities such as: reading texts; doing in-text activities and self-assessment questions; listening to audio; watching videos and TV programmes; making notes; doing assignments and reflecting on assignment feedback; doing exams; participating in tutorials; attending day schools, workshops and residential schools; participating in self help groups; talking to a tutor; planning studies.

Reflecting on the thinking of what such a course involves can be useful in understanding which skills it has been designed to help you acquire and what will be looked for in assessments. As a starting point, take a look at some of the thinking skills in an assignment question or activity from your course.

Try this:

Look at the examples of assignment questions below.Look at the tasks they set and consider the thinking skills involved. You may find it useful to print this page and highlight and/or underline relevant words or phrases.

Example 1 Assignment

This example is from an Open University Level 1 Maths and computing course. Don't worry if you are not a mathematician - the point of this example is to understand the idea of looking at a question to see what thinking skills are expected. You are not expected to understand or be able to answer this question.


I have lent a member of my family £1500 and it is being repaid at the rate of £75 a month. As this is a family loan, no interest is being charged. How many repayments will there be to clear the loan?  If b is the balance still owing at the end of the nth month (assuming the payment is made just before the end of the month) write down the recurrence system for bn .

Find the closed form for b and use it to calculate the number of payments that will be needed to pay off the loan.

Example 2 Assignment

This example is from an Open University Level 2 psychology course.

Question: Discuss the models of memory and consider their usefulness in real life situations.

Think about this:

To answer Example 1 successfully requires particular knowledge and understanding. For example, how to work out repayments on loans, what special terms like 'b' and 'recurrence system' mean. The words 'find' and 'calculate' show that the ability to apply this knowledge to examples is being tested.

In Example 2, the word 'discuss' suggests that you need to explain, give different sides of an issue, consider implications and so on. To answer this question, you need to know and understand the theories, and be able to apply and analyse them. You also need to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.

These examples illustrate an important general point - that learning at university (whatever the level of study) is not just about remembering and recalling information and facts. More sophisticated thinking is expected. You will find that different courses will make different intellectual demands depending on the nature of the subject and the level of study. As you move up the levels of study, the intellectual demands will increase. You will usually be required to engage in a greater amount of higher order thinking.

To find out about developing your thinking disposition go to 'How do I think?' 

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