Bloom’s Taxonomy: Testing beyond Rote-Memory

By Sara Rathburn

From pop-quizzes to final exams, assessing how well your students are meeting their learning objectives depends largely on the language in which the questions are couched. You must test beyond the limits of rote-memory if you are to understand whether your students are truly learning and retaining information.

Bloom's Taxonomy PyramidIn order to do this, many educators invoke Bloom’s Taxonomy. Officially titled The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1964), Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies six increasingly complex cognitive domains and specific language choices that are appropriate for questions that test at each of those levels.

When questions and problems are devised with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind, they place a demand on students that—in their response—
they complete a specific task that forces them to reach beyond mere information recall. Part of that demand is that they become cognitively active; that they process and understand specific, task-oriented language before responding.

The following examples illustrate the six cognitive domain levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy and the types of questions that are appropriate to each.

Level One Questions ask that students do such things as define or describe, identify or label, list, match, or name things. Such questions assess basic knowledge regarding terms, facts, principles, and procedures.

An example would be:

"List the steps involved in locating an earthquake epicenter."

Level Two Questions ask that students do such things as defend or distinguish; estimate or convert, explain, or extend; infer, predict, or summarize. These are questions that assess levels of comprehension understanding of facts and principles, and the accurate interpretation of material.

For instance:

"Summarize the basic tenets of collaborative conservation."

Level Three Questions require that students demonstrate, modify, or operate; prepare, produce, or relate; show, solve, or use something. These questions assess application skills used in problem solving, and in applying concepts and principles to new situations.

A typical example would be:

"Calculate the rate of habitat fragmentation within the Colorado Front Range in the last decade."

Level Four Questions Ask students to do things like diagram or differentiate, distinguish or illustrate, relate or point out; select, separate or subdivide. Such questions assess analytical abilities like recognizing unstated assumptions and logical fallacies, or distinguishing between facts and inferences.

In a simple example, one might ask:

"In the article read in class, which statements are based on facts and which are based on assumptions?"

Level Five Questions include such verbs as categorize, combine, or compile; devise, design, or explain; organize, rearrange, or reconstruct. These skills require the ability to synthesize information, integrate learning from different areas, and/or solve problems through creative thinking.

Here’s an example:

"How would you restructure a numerical model of salmonid migration to account for the effects of flow regulation?"

Level Six Questions are evaluative. They ask that students do such things as appraise, compare, or conclude; contrast, criticize, or describe; justify, interpret, or support. These kinds of questions help you gauge your students’ ability to judge, discriminate, and assess.

For instance:

"What data are used to support the conclusion of variable denitrification rates in alpine meadow soils?"

Notice how the complexity increases from one level to the next. One thing remains the same, however. Before responding, the students must first evaluate the “nature” of the question being asked, process the verb being used in the asking, and then correctly identify the type of task that must be completed.

Regardless of complexity—which should match the complexity of the course level itself—these types of questions will help you effectively assess how well your students are meeting their learning objectives.

For more information on assessment tools, please visit the Carleton College Science Education Resource Center.


Davis, B.G., (1993). Quizzes, Test and Exams in Tools for Teaching (pp.241-242). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Retrieved February 26, 2008, from

Bloom, B. Mesia, B. and Krathwohl, D. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (two vols: The Affective Domain and The Cognitive Domain). New York. David McKay.

Copyright and Permissions:

Thanks to Dr. Sara Rathburn, Assoc. Prof. in the Dept. of Geosciences and the Master Teacher Initiative (MTI) Coordinator for the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, for this tip.


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor