Learning Levels Tested in Tests and Exams - Bloom's Taxonomy

Tayla Badenhorst, 22 August 2022


Have you ever wondered how tests and exams are set to ensure that they are fair and assessing your children at the correct cognitive levels?


Well, there is a set formula that teachers use to achieve this. Bloom's Taxonomy is a teacher's best friend when setting papers and gauging learners' levels of understanding. It is a hierarchy of 6 cognitive levels which assess the depth of a learner's knowledge. It was created by educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom.


Pyramid representing Bloom's Taxonomy with example question words (adapted from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching)


The tests and exams that your children will come across during their schooling careers are set and moderated using certain percentages of questions which assess each level of cognition or understanding. The diagram above gives a rough indication of the types of question words or cues that may be associated with each cognitive level. Some of these question words may be fluid and apply to more than one cognitive level as the context of the question itself also plays a role in the type of knowledge being tested.


Here is a rough breakdown of each cognitive level, question examples, and how to study for such questions:


Level 1: Remembering

This level requires learners to be able to "parrot" back the theory they have learned in class. For example, "Give the definition of ..."or "Label this diagram". This will relate to content that comes straight out of their books with no further understanding being tested. To study for this question type, learners will have to memorise theory, definitions, labels and any other information they may need to know verbatim. This is best done in a study technique that suits their minds best, e.g. writing out summaries, drawing mind-maps, reading out loud, making flashcards, etc.


Level 2: Understanding

This is a higher cognitive level than remembering as learners will have to understand the content they have learned so that they are able to explain it in context, and possibly find similarities and differences between objects or situations. These are comprehension type questions. An example may be "Compare the two characters from the comprehension"and "Explain how they are different". When studying for these types of questions, it is important to remember the theory or definitions you have learned and see if you can explain the definitions or concepts in your own words. Mind-maps with branches for additional information are useful in this case. Having a discussion with a family member or friend to share your opinions on the topic is also very useful!


Level 3: Applying

The application level requires learners to take their understanding of a concept and apply it to a new or adjusted scenario that they may not necessarily be familiar with from class (Yes you can and will be asked questions in ways you may not have seen in class!). It tests learners' understanding of ideas that may be abstract. An example of this type of question may be where learners are given a change or adjustment to a problem and they have to apply their knowledge to explain the effects of said change. In Physical Sciences, an example may be "If the height was changed from 2m to 5m, how would the potential energy value be affected?".The best way to study for these types of questions is to look at problems or questions you have at your disposal and adjust the problems you're practicing with to see how alterations may affect the end result.


Level 4: Analysing

The analysis cognitive level focuses on identifying relationships within a certain concept. This requires learners to dig deep into their understanding of their content and analyse the question and context to arrive at their answer. An example of this type of question may be reading a piece of writing and drawing a conclusion based on what you know. In English the question may look like this: "What can you infer from this passage?". While studying, it is important to make sure you are not memorising your content, but rather asking yourself "WHY am I doing this?". It is important to study for understanding why you use the methods you use, rather than memorising rigid patterns or steps, or key words. While studying keep asking yourself "WHY?" and when you can justify your steps to yourself then you know you're on the right track.


Level 5: Evaluating

The evaluation level draws further on analysis skills. It requires learners to analyse the problem and then use their knowledge to decide what is right or wrong and why. It requires learners to be able to form their own judgements and opinions. An example of such a question may be: "From the author's choice of words, how do you think they feel about the topic?". When studying to answer these types of questions, practice looking at all the information you are given in a question and think for yourself - how is each of theses pieces of information relevant to knowledge I currently have? Practice making informed decisions and drawing conclusions for yourself without being prompted to do so. Expand your thinking beyond the question or content you are working with.


Level 6: Creating

This is the 6th and highest cognitive level where learners can use the knowledge discovered by others to create something of their own. An example of this type of question may be "Write your own haiku based on a topic of your choice". These can often be creative questions like designing a poster or writing an essay or suggesting new ways to do something. When studying to answer these types of questions, read through your notes and ask yourself - "Is there a different way to do this?" , "How could I design something using these ideas?". You can also have a look at past papers to see what has been asked in previous years.


In theory, learners should be able to achieve up to 70% in a paper by mastering the first 4 levels. Learners aiming to achieve distinctions should ideally aim to conquer the evaluation and creation levels as these 2 higher level tiers can account for up to 30% of a test or exam paper.


It is also important to remember that every learner is different and each learner may find that their greatest strengths or challenges may lie in specific cognitive levels.


References

Armstrong, P. (2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [21 August 2022] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy

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