In recent years, an increasing number of countries around the world have placed special importance on the cultivation of critical thinking (CT) at all levels of education (e.g., Forawi, 2016; Kay & Greenhill, 2011; Liu, Frankel, & Roohr, 2014; McPeck, 2016). A main motivation
behind this trend is the wide acceptance of the idea that developing students’ CT is crucial for their academic success and will overall increase the quality of education.
However, in spite of the consensus on the importance of CT for academic success, empirical research has lagged behind in clarifying how CT supports academic performance and whether CT is different from the general cognitive ability that is often suggested as a cognitive foundation of academic development (Peng & Kievit, 2020).
Specifically, the bulk of the literature examining cognitive abilities predicting academic performance mainly concentrated on fluid intelligence, working memory and processing speed (e.g., Colom, Escorial, Shih, & Privado, 2007; Coyle, Pillow, Snyder, & Kochunov, 2011; Dodonova & Dodonov, 2012; Peng, Namkung, Barnes, & Sun, 2016; Peng, Wang, Wang, & Lin, 2019; Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012) and these general abilities are powerful predictors of academic performance even beyond domain-specific foundational skills (e.g.,
working memory and intelligence still exert impact on later mathematics development after controlling for early mathematics skills, Bull & Lee, 2014; Lee & Bull, 2016; Geary, Nicholas, Li, & Sun, 2017; Deary, Strand, Smith, & Fernandes, 2007; Rohde & Thompson, 2007). This calls into question whether CT that is conceptually associated with cognitive abilities (e.g., Dwyer, Hogan, & Stewart, 2014; Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010) predicts academic performance beyond the contribution of general cognitive ability