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Researchers from the University of Oxford explore the DP’s effect on critical thinking

Do International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) students have an edge when it comes to critical thinking? Researchers from the University of Oxford conducted a study to examine the effects of the DP on the critical thinking skills of DP and non-DP students in Australia, England and Norway.

Researchers from the University of Oxford explore the DP’s effect on critical thinking

About the study

A new study investigated whether student participation in the DP contributed to higher levels of critical thinking as measured by a validated critical thinking assessment1.  Researchers also examined DP curricular elements that may support critical thinking and explored the perspectives of DP students and teachers.

What the data shows

The researchers used propensity score matching, a statistical technique that allowed them to construct matched IB and non-IB samples with similar characteristics for comparison. The results of these tests showed that the DP students had significantly higher levels of critical thinking than the non-DP students (p < .001), with a moderate effect size (d = 0.48).

The study also looked at differences in critical thinking across grade levels among the matched DP and non-DP students. Findings showed that the advantage of DP students was more pronounced in grade 12, compared to grade 11 students (F(1,360) = 7.11, p = .008). This suggests that the difference in critical thinking between IB and non-IB students increases over the course of the DP (see figure).

[rrj_bar_chart title=”Critical thinking by grade” labels=”Grade 11; Grade 12″ datasets=”%5B%7B%22title%22%3A%22Non-IB%22%2C%22tooltips_format%22%3A%22%7Bd%7D%3A%20%7By%7D%22%2C%22values%22%3A%2224.1%3B20.8%22%2C%22color%22%3A%22%2356c600%22%2C%22bar_bg%22%3A%22transparent%22%7D%2C%7B%22title%22%3A%22IB%22%2C%22tooltips_format%22%3A%22%7Bd%7D%3A%20%7By%7D%22%2C%22values%22%3A%2225.5%3B%2026.8%22%2C%22color%22%3A%22%2300ccff%22%2C%22bar_bg%22%3A%22transparent%22%7D%5D”]

Figure 1. Critical thinking as a function of grade and IB participation

DP curricular elements that support critical thinking

Researchers analysed select IB policy, instructional and subject documents to see what elements of the DP may support critical thinking. This analysis revealed that the IB embraces an approach to critical thinking development, which is largely in line with evidence-based best practice. At a general level, the theory of knowledge (TOK) course provides critical thinking instruction outside of any content area. Additionally, researchers found evidence of subject-specific critical thinking instruction across all courses and subjects. The DP approach makes teaching critical thinking an explicit goal, ensuring that critical thinking instruction is not assumed to follow from other knowledge gains, but is specifically taught within the classroom.

What DP students and teachers are saying

DP students and teachers were interviewed to learn more about their views on learning or teaching critical thinking.

Students believed TOK, the extended essay and particular subjects were helpful in developing their critical thinking skills. Additionally, students felt that the DP better prepared them for future studies compared to other school systems and suggested that the teaching of critical thinking made them better learners.

Teachers claimed that the DP approach plays a central role in fostering students’ critical thinking skills. Like students, overall, teachers felt that the DP offers stronger preparation for university studies compared to national or state programmes. All teachers interviewed agreed that the DP enhanced students’ thinking skills, which could provide a comparative advantage to DP students, as one teacher commented:

“I feel like our students end up maybe more rounded than other students would, just because we, we kind of facilitate both sides and thinking about things from different perspectives and then coming up with their own validated conclusions. And I think that’s a very valuable part of the course”. (Environment systems and society teacher, England)

Want to learn more? Click on the buttons below to read the research. All IB research can be found at Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected].


1 ENNIS, R. H.; MILLMAN, J.; TOMKO, T. N. Cornell Critical Thinking Tests: Administration Manual. California (EE. UU.): Critical Thinking Company, 2005.

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