The relationship between critical thinking ability and selected educational variables in baccalaureate nursing students

Martha Cook Morris


The present-day practice of nursing requires a high level of critical thinking ability in order for appropriate clinical decision-making to occur. The quality of clinical judgment has serious implications for patients' well-being and for potential liability for the individual nurse as well as for the employing institution. The need for development of critical thinking ability in professional education has been well documented. Considering the high rate of attrition in nursing education secondary to academic failure, and research which shows that many college-level students do not demonstrate formal reasoning abilities, the challenge to nursing education is apparent. The purpose of this study was to determine if differences exist between entrance and exit measures of critical thinking ability of students in a baccalaureate nursing program in south Mississippi in 1998. In addition, the study determined the relationship between these measures and selected educational variables consisting of GPA, NLN Pre-Admission RN examination (NLN PAX-RN), and the graduate licensure examination (NCLEX-RN). The population of 82 students who completed the program was used in this study. Critical thinking scores were determined by administering the California Critical Thinking Skills Test Form A within the first 3 weeks of the nursing major (entrance score) and Form B during the last 3 weeks of the nursing curriculum (exit score). To analyze data, a t test was used to determine differences between entrance and exit critical thinking ability. Multiple correlation was used to test the relationship between critical thinking and the educational characteristic variables. Semi-partial correlation was used to test for independent relationships, discriminant analysis was used to test the ability for any one variable to predict results, and two-way analysis of variance was used to determine interaction between variables. Results of these analyses showed no significant difference between entrance and exit measures of critical thinking ability. The variable set as a whole was related to exit critical thinking ability, but none of the variables demonstrated an independent relationship with exit critical thinking ability. No combination of variables had the power to predict between pass/fail on the NCLEX-RN. Based on these results and the review of literature, recommendations for future research are provided.