Critical Thinking Proficiency Exam

The following sample English paper is 3135 words long, in MLA format, and written at the undergraduate level. It has been downloaded 130 times and is available for you to use, free of charge.

Part 1: Analyze Positions

Tessa Jowell uses many relevant examples to prove her point. She first sets out two major promises that were made regarding the hosting of the Olympics, and then she provides evidence supporting the idea that each has been achieved. The first objective in hosting the Summer Games was to revitalize London’s East End, an area so notoriously downtrodden that even many foreigners may be immediately familiar with the locale. Subsequently, Jowell describes the statistics regarding the 2012 Summer Games as they relate to employment for those who live in the area, giving impressive numbers such as the fact that 20.5 percent of the newly employed 46,000 people came from the local area. The information regarding the new infrastructure built is likewise evidence for this point. As for the second promise, the one of involving more young people in sports, Jowell does admit that the goal numbers have not been reached, but also gives more statistics showing that much progress has been made in spite of this. Overall, Jowell’s work is rich with numerical facts.

Contrasting with Tessa Jowell’s portion of the article, Andrew Boff’s segment lacks much concrete evidence and examples. Instead, Boff spends much of his time spinning a negative caricature of both the Olympics and anyone who might feel some enthusiasm for them. One begins to get the impression that when he states the decision on whether to host the Olympic Summer Games of 2012 in London ought to have been made only by people who hate sports, he is really merely congratulating himself for being such a person. When he discusses the East End regeneration plans as being “second-rate” (Jowell and Boff par. 12), Boff completely fails to elucidate why this might be the case with any examples or evidence. The reader might infer that Boff automatically assumes the plans were done in a rushed fashion and thus poorly executed, but even such information as to what a more typical time-scale might be for such plans is omitted. Compared with Jowell’s argument, Boff’s few attempts at including numerical facts fall flat; rather than support his point of view, the information he gives is almost completely meaningless trivia, like the fact that the stadium seated 60,000 or that the games generally take place over a six-week period. Overall, the lack of data is disturbing.

1. Do you think the evidence and examples offered by each writer provide adequate support for her/his argument? Explain why or why not.

The evidence and examples Jowell gives are quite sufficient to support her point. She has many numbers at hand, although there is a possible concern present in the lack of citations for them. Yet this is normal for an article of this variety, and should not be too heavily counted against Jowell. At the same time, for some of the wilder statistics, such as the rise in the percentage of young people engaged in sporting activity at least two hours a week having risen from 25 percent to 90 percent, Jowell would make a stronger argument by including at least some minimal information on the source of the data in her actual text. Even though the evidence and examples are provided in such excellent quantity, the fact that some of them seem slightly implausible does tend to cast a shadow of a doubt over the entire piece.

The information Boff provides cannot in any way be considered adequate to prove his point for the simple fact that there is not very much of it. As mentioned previously, Boff leaves giant gaps where information could be—or rather, he fills the space with appeals to pathos where logos would be the choice that better appeals to a sense of critical thinking. Of course, arguments based on emotional sentiment are not inherently invalid, but what is odd here is that Boff’s tagline is about not being seduced by the Olympics; in short, he argues for coolness toward the topic that is completely at odds with his total omission of actual factual evidence. Boff cannot have it both ways. If he would like for people to be won over to his anti-seduction point of view, he must include some examples that support his point.

2. What additional kinds of verifiable evidence, not found in these texts, would tend to refute each writer’s assertions?

There are many means by which some of Jowell’s claims might be refuted with further evidence and examples. If, for example, it could be shown that the change in the percentages of young people participating in sports were due to factors other than the presence of the Olympic Games in London, this would be interesting. In addition, having more data on the final outcome of those who were employed as part of the set-up, preparation, execution, and cleanup steps for the Olympics would be helpful. Were it the case that such additional information showed that the gains made were later cancelled out when the Olympic Games left and those jobs were no longer available, Jowell’s assertions about the presence of employment having improved lives in London would be made much, much weaker. Her claims would still not be entirely refuted, for even a temporary job is still better than none at all, but this would certainly weaken her argument in the matter.

If one takes Boff’s point to be that no one really wanted the Olympics in London in the first place—or that at least reasonable people did not want them—his point could be refuted any one of a number of ways. One method would be to simply cite statistics that demonstrate the number of British citizens who watched the Olympics, either in person or on television, and compare this to the total populace or to viewing rates for other events. More simply, one could argue that if Boff was arguing against being seduced by the Olympics, it was obviously an unrealistic hope. The Olympics did happen in London in 2012, so clearly they were inherently “seductive” enough that people did not in the end follow Boff’s recommendations. Opinion poll data on the matter might serve to seal the deal even further in refuting Boff’s point of view in this argument.

3. What additional kinds of verifiable evidence, not found in these texts, would tend to support each writer’s assertions?

In order to verify Jowell’s assertions, it would be particularly helpful to have evidence from scholarly research articles that support the statistics she gives. Without peer-reviewed sources, any evidence given is weaker than it would otherwise be with this more ironclad support. In addition, the early claim that Britain is “immeasurably better off” (Jowell and Boff par. 1) for its role in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games is not supported by fact anywhere in the piece. Though this may have just been meant as a broad overarching statement of the variety so often found in introductions, still, this was a rather wild assertion considering that the games were held in London alone and thus could only affect the rest of Britain indirectly at best. It would have been nice to see some additional information that focused on the impact on Britain overall.

By the same token, if Boff could show that many people were against the Olympics happening, this would be strong evidence in his favor. Indeed, such studies already exist; as one exploration of the emotional side of the issue explains, “Using a contingent valuation survey, this paper provides the first empirical test of the proposition that intangible impacts might justify hosting major sporting events on cost-benefit grounds” (Atkinson et al. 419). Though the results of that particular study were mixed, they would have substantially helped prove Boff’s point if they had turned out to show that the intangible aspects of the Olympics did not outweigh the negative costs. As Boff’s secondary point seems to involve the cost-benefit understanding of the situation, though this is not made entirely clear, perhaps financial data might also have helped his cause. Ultimately, he did not strive to find much hard, concrete evidence of any kind to support his argument.

4. Explain the major strength of each writer's argument as stated in the text.

The major strengths of Jowell’s arguments are simple to explain. First of all, there is her strong reliance on statistics, letting numbers and hard facts stand as the pillars of her argument. Not only does she state the information, though; she also continually ties it back to her points, never leaving a stray number hanging. This makes for a well-integrated text that flows smoothly. In addition, the organizational structure of her piece is quite clear, given the way she lays out her two main points and then goes about providing evidence for them one at a time. This makes the argument easy to follow and very transparent for the reader. A good persuasive approach should indeed strive to do precisely this, for obfuscation is the enemy of clarification, and anyone who employs such tactics may merely be attempting to disguise the weakness inherent in the work they do.

Boff’s strengths are somewhat limited for this argument. In part, he does seem to speak with at least some authority on the processes behind either approving or disapproving a potential bid for the Olympic Games to be held in a given city. This is most likely due partially to his position as a member of the Greater London Assembly, where he would have had substantial hands-on experience with the details of the analysis that went into the decision. Tessa Jowell, by contrast, might have had less detailed involvement in the process and a view that came more from oversight as a Member of Parliament. The knowledge of the way the committee worked serves Boff’s argument well as he discusses such matters as the financial contributions of the International Olympic Committee—or lack thereof, as the case may be—and the importance of setting up legacy companies from the beginning. However, taken altogether, some of his more cogent points in these areas do not connect very well with the bulk of his argument as he puts it forth here.

5. Explain the major weakness of each writer's argument.

Jowell’s writing, however, is also not without its weaknesses. For example, she begins with a rather overblown introduction, as mentioned in passing before, and this does not inspire a lot of confidence in her writing. In addition, the length of her overly optimistic beginning paragraphs ultimately results in her having little time to wrap up her argument in the end. As one could hardly wish for her to trim any of the statistics out of the piece, as these are her greatest strength, the words cut should have come from the introduction to make room for a decent conclusion. Though in some ways writing style may seem tangential to the strength of an argument, in truth, to come across as completely persuasive, one needs to have mastered the art of the medium in which the argument is made, which in this case is the short opinion piece for publication in a popular periodical. Jowell would have done better to adhere to the rules of her craft and provide the reader with a decent summation of her previously made points so that her argument would be conveyed in the clearest manner possible.

The weaknesses that Boff brings to his argument have already been mentioned in passing, but an overall summary may be well worthwhile. Boff struggles overall with a lack of firm evidence in his favor, relying instead upon appeals to emotion while occasionally tossing out some rather abstruse details of the Olympic bid process that he does not tie back in to his argument. In addition, it is still very strange that he argues against seduction while trying to seduce the reader to his viewpoint with such sneering and contemptuous phrases as the comparison of the Olympics to a six-week Disney World. If Boff wants us to share his anti-Olympics passion, that is all well and good, but he goes about it in a completely bizarre fashion that accomplishes little.

PART 2: DEVELOP AND SUPPORT THEORIES

1. Summarize the data and patterns depicted in the graph. Be clear, specific, and accurate in your summary

A summary of the data in the graph provided is in order. The graph contains a breakdown based on internet sales numbers from both the first quarter of the year 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. It is a bar graph showing four percentages. These four percentages could be represented in a two-by-two matrix, and if they were, along one axis would be “e-commerce only” versus “with brick-and-mortar outlets” and on the other axis would be “sales” and “growth.” As well, the sales data could also be represented as a pie chart, since the two percentages provided add to one hundred percent and nothing is left out. With 37 percent of online sales, e-commerce only stores were outstripped by those with brick-and-mortar outlets, which took the other 63 percent of sales. It is unclear whether this data is from 2012 or 2013. As for growth, the trend is reversed, with e-commerce’s 17 percent coming in at a fair bit above that of businesses with brick-and-mortar stores, which was 11 percent. However, it is unclear whether these somewhat close figures differ significantly according to any variety of statistical tests, such as the chi-squares test. All the information given is summarized in a text box atop the graph, and the source is provided at the bottom. A key to the colors used in the bar graph is also included, and both the graph title and its axes are labeled appropriately. Interestingly, the percentage axis stops at 80 percent, but this may have been an aesthetic choice rather than one designed to obscure the nature of the data. One of the colors selected for the bars in the graph is a variegated rainbow color, which is somewhat distracting and could be called “chart-junk.” Ultimately, however, though the graph suffers from a few issues, the data contained therein seem inherently solid enough to be analyzed.

2. One important component of critical thinking is viewing data and generating theories from multiple perspectives.

There are multiple possible explanations for the trends in the data given. Of course, first of all, the possibility that the results are simply due to random chance must be considered. As it is well-known in the study of science and its inevitable ties to the facilitation of skills in critical thinking, this is often known as the null hypothesis, and it is a vital tool. In fact, there can never truly be any certainty that results are simply not the result of randomness; there is only the increasing likelihood that they are based on an actual cause-and-effect pattern depending upon the results of statistical tests and analyses. Without subjecting the data given here to such rigors, as that would be well beyond the scope of this discussion, all that can be said is that there is a possibility the trends given in the data mean nothing at all.

Yet in spite of the possibility that the data are not the result of actual phenomena, it is, of course, more interesting to examine the possibility that indeed they are demonstrative of real factors. The difference in overall sales, for example, might be accounted for by the fact that there are many items people still prefer to buy in brick-and-mortar stores. For example, even some grocery store chains have begun to make online shopping options available to their consumers, and yet it can still be expected that the majority of people would rather purchase their groceries in person. As groceries are part of a huge industry, it would not take terribly many such companies weighing in on the brick-and-mortar side of the graph to skew the data such that the bulk of the sales comes from those companies with investment on both sides of the issue. For the growth, it is simple to make yet another explanation for the trend, which is that as the world begins to live more and more online and less and less in person, internet-only companies will inevitably surge ahead of their more solid counterparts.

PART 3: ANALYZE APPLICATION OF CRITICAL THINKING

There are many ways in which I have come to use critical thinking in my life since taking this course. One of the most important has been in evaluating my desire to make new purchases. In the past, I have had the occasional moment when an impulse to buy something overwhelmed my common sense. I fell into the habit of letting emotion dictate my buying patterns, so that if I “felt rich” I would tend to buy more, and if I “felt broke” I would then buy less. Ultimately, relying on emotion was not a very conscious way to make my decisions, and critical thinking gave me some tools to help work around this.

Critical thinking taught me first and foremost to examine the logic behind whatever action I am contemplating doing. In some ways, merely having the mental reminder, “Think critically!” to say to myself was the biggest help of all. Just the one small catchphrase could make all the difference as to whether or not I unthinkingly plunged ahead with either a rash decision to spend more than I really wanted to or else to deny myself something I really did need because I was feeling a little blue and did not want to spend money that day. Still, there were also times when I needed to go deeper into critical thinking in order to figure out what the best option was.

On occasions when halting the automatic emotional process was not enough, the tools involved in critical thinking became even more vital to maintaining my financial wellbeing and general level of contentment. Knowing the importance of basing my decisions and judgments in evidence has allowed me to take more time in making my final decision on a purchase. Because I now know that critical thinking cannot be rushed, I try to always ensure that I will have a chance to spend some time with a decision. This allows me to gather more data, such as numerical figures, that can help me make the best of what I do have. In the end, critical thinking can be a very valuable life tool. 

Works Cited

Atkinson, Giles, et al. “Are we willing to pay enough to back the bid?: Valuing the intangible impacts of London’s bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.” Urban Studies, vol. 45, no. 2, 2008, pp. 419-444.

Jowell, Tessa and Andrew Boff. “Pro/con: Was it wise for London to host the 2012 Summer Games?” CG Global Researcher Jul. 2012. Data file.