How Leading Competitions Teach Students Critical Thinking Skills

Posted February 22, 2021 by Jessica Fahrenholtz

Critical-thinking skills are crucial for students to thrive in the 21st century business world. Unfortunately, this is also one of those skills that is not a direct part of many school curriculums. Students often can only learn critical-thinking by going beyond the traditional classroom and participating in academic competitions and challenges that engage them in unique problem solving situations.

By putting themselves out there, taking risks, and being put into situations that require problem-solving and critical-thinking students better prepare themselves for the “real-world.”

While schools do their best to equip students with these skills, the classroom’s controlled environment is a difficult place for students to take the calculated risks that teach critical thinking. That’s why many students are turning to academic competitions to fill in the gaps of their education and learn those valuable lessons that will serve them into adulthood. However, not every academic competition teaches critical-thinking skills in the same way.

Because “critical-thinking” captures such a diversity of skills itself, we wanted to explore how the leading academic competitions teach students critical-thinking skills on their own. Here are a few examples of competitions that help students in this life lesson.




Future Problem Solving Program International

Our featured program is a long-standing stalwart of critical-thinking and creativity. The Future Problem Solving Program’s goal is to get kids thinking about their vision for the future. It also works to prepare them for leadership roles where they will drive change and lead others to innovative thinking. This is a 4-part challenge that includes:

  • Community Problem Solving
  • Global Issues Problem Solving
  • Scenario Writing
  • Scenario Performance

Creating real change in your community takes a lot of planning and follow-through. From identifying a problem, coming up with a solution, and getting in touch with the appropriate community members, students will have to exercise their critical thinking skills in every aspect of this program.

The comprehensive structure of the Future Problem Solving Program provides a great, well-rounded way of educating students on critical-thinking challenges at all stages of the problem-solving process.

In addition to the skills they will hone, students will also gain valuable experience for their college applications and the opportunity to work with their peers and professionally present their ideas to industry leaders.



While the FPS program may be the most well-rounded competition students can engage their critical thinking caps in, other programs teach critical-thinking skills in unique formats that may help inspire learning in specific areas.

The Modeling the Future Challenge (MTFC)

This academic competition offers students the opportunity to hone their risk management skills by teaching them the Actuarial Process. Much like the scientific method, this process gives kids a system they can utilize any time they need to analyze risk. From start to finish, the Actuarial Process and the Modeling the Future Challenge offer students the opportunity to think for themselves and exercise their critical-thinking skills.

The MTFC helps students learn to use data and mathematical analysis in critical-thinking.


Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament

In this academic tournament, students program drones to complete specific tasks alongside other students. Each student is responsible for their own drown, and the participant that best completes the task wins. Since every student competes on the same playing field, they need to use critical-thinking skills to determine the best way for their drone to complete the required task before they can even begin programming.

The Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament helps students learn critical-thinking from an engineering perspective to better solve technical challenges.

Best Robotics Challenge 

This competition is as fun as it is educational. To compete, students will design a robot that can perform specific tasks and make it through a field of obstacles on tournament day. With every student competing on the same course, the winners will have to think outside the box and demonstrate excellent critical thinking skills to come out on top.

Best Robotics focuses student critical thinking in a unique robotics environment – encouraging students to think how to solve a challenge from a unique perspective.


Academic challenges like those listed above are an excellent way for students to embrace the subjects they love while also learning crucial life skills like critical-thinking. For a comprehensive program that incorporates critical-thinking into all aspects of the problem-solving process, check out the Future Problem Solving Program.

For students with special interests in data analysis, mathematical modeling, engineering, or robotics, check out our other recommendations.

And don’t forget to head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up, and find programs that are unique to your interests and needs. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up to date on all the news with academic competitions.

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