Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2017

Publication Source

Management Accounting Quarterly


The importance of teaching and applying critical thinking skills is apparently matched by its difficulty in doing so. Sara Rimer, writing for the January 18, 2011, edition of The Hechinger Report, discussed a study by Richard Arum that followed several thousand undergraduates from when they entered college in fall 2005 to when they graduated in spring 2009. Arum’s research, published in his book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, found that large numbers of students did not learn critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication skills. Arum used testing data and student surveys from 24 colleges and universities ranging from the highly selective to the least selective. The study found that after the first two years of college, 45% of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills. After four years, 36% showed no significant gains in what Arum called the “higher order” thinking skills. The good news is that students majoring in the liberal arts showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, reasoning, and writing skills. The bad news is that students majoring in business, education, social work, and communication showed the least number of gains in learning.

Paul Hurd, in the article “The State of Critical Thinking Today,” written for The Critical Thinking Community website (, examined the current state of critical thinking in higher education. Citing numerous studies, Hurd pointed out that while the overwhelming majority of faculty understand the importance of developing critical thinking skills in their students and believe it is the primary objective of their instructional methodology, a majority of faculty lacks a substantive concept of critical thinking. He says that, given this lack of understanding, it is difficult to make the case that critical thinking is the norm in the design of most instructional methodologies. For Hurd, an understanding of critical thinking at the level he is proposing requires that we “teach content through thinking, not content, and then thinking.”

While the development of critical thinking skills is important for any discipline, it must be a vital component in how we prepare students for entry into the accounting profession. For example, management accountants are often called on to identify problems, gather relevant information in assessing those problems, and explore and interpret information in developing alternative strategies for solving these problems. In this capacity, the management accountant is expected to formulate questions, highlight and identify relevant assumptions, and challenge those assumptions, all with a view toward developing and articulating alternative strategies aimed at resolving these problems. Management accountants are also called on to construct and defend arguments by using and evaluating evidence either in favor of or in opposition to proposals that require managerial decisions. All of the above tasks are important components that must be developed through an understanding and application of critical thinking skills.

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Copyright 2017 by IMA®, Montvale, N.J.,, used with permission.

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Institute of Management Accountants





Place of Publication

Montvale, NJ

Peer Reviewed