King & Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Model

Brief Overview
King and Kitchener’s model of reflective judgment provides a framework for educators to help students enhance their problem-solving ability by learning to make defensible judgments about vexing problems. The Reflective Judgment Model is also used to describe the development of reasoning from adolescence to adulthood. In addition, the Reflective Judgment Model describes changes in epistemic assumptions and how these affect the development of critical or reflective thinking skills and related constructs in young adults and adults, especially college students.
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About the Authors

Patrica King is associate professor and acting chair of the Department of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University.

Dr. Karen Kitchener is a professor in the College of Education and the director of the counseling psychology program at the University of Denver.

Printable Summary (PDF)

Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:  

  • Pre-Reflective Thinking (Stages 1, 2, and 3)
    • Stage 1
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to exist absolutely and concretely; it is not understood as an abstraction. It can be obtained with certainty by direct observation.
    • Stage 2
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or certain but not immediately available. Knowledge can be obtained directly through the senses (as in direct observation) or via authority figures.
    • Stage 3
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or temporarily uncertain. In areas of temporary uncertainty, only personal beliefs can be known until absolute knowledge is obtained. In areas of absolute certainty, knowledge is obtained from authorities.
  • Quasi-Reflective Thinking (Stages 4 and 5)
    • Stage 4
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is uncertain and knowledge claims are idiosyncratic to the individual since situational variables (such as incorrect reporting of data, data lost over time, or disparities in access to information) dictate that knowing always involves an element of ambiguity.
    • Stage 5
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is contextual and subjective since it is filtered through a person’s perceptions and criteria for judgment. Only interpretations of evidence, events, or issues may be known.
  • Reflective Thinking (Stages 6 and 7)
    • Stage 6
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is constructed into individual conclusions about ill-structured problems on the basis of information from a variety of sources. Interpretations that are based on evaluations of evidence across contexts and on the evaluated opinions of reputable others can be known.
    • Stage 7
      • View of knowledge: Knowledge is the outcome of a process of reasonable inquiry in which solutions to ill-structured problems are constructed. The adequacy of those solutions is evaluated in terms of what is most reasonable or probable according to the current evidence, and it is reevaluated when relevant new evidence, perspectives, or tools of inquiry become available.
Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.

Annotations of Associated Literature

Annotations listed below are associated with the author’s original work to provided a more in-depth look at the theory.

Original Citation

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K.S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescence and adults. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass

Additional Resources

This page was written and created by Andrew Mason. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at