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Exam Preparation: Identifying Levels of Learning

When you are preparing for an exam, it is important to “practice as you will have to perform” on the exam. In other words, you need to engage in activities during your exam prep time that are the same as those you’ll be doing during the exam. It is, therefore, important to find out how you will be expected to demonstrate your knowledge on the exam so that you can practice accordingly.

Exams test our ability to use knowledge, which can be tested on various levels. Bloom (1956), an educational psychologist, proposed a six-level model of learning, with each level requiring a different type of cognitive processing. Bloom’s model was later revised by a group of educators (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), and the resulting levels are described below. The levels, arranged in order of increasing sophistication, are: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Understanding these levels and the types of exam questions that test for them, can help you prepare for your exam. 



Levels of Learning Pyramid




These types of questions require you to retrieve knowledge from memory. Kinds of information you might be asked to recognize or recall include: answers, concepts, dates, definitions, events, facts, formulae, ideas, statistics, terms, persons, phenomenon, and places.  Typical exam wording includes:  choose, define, find, identify, label, list, match, name, recall, select, show, state, translate, true/false, who, what, where, when, why, which.

  • What is the definition of X?


Comprehension questions ask you to demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter.  Typical exam wording includes:  arrange, classify, compare, compute, contrast, demonstrate, describe, discuss, distinguish, explain, extrapolate, group, interpret, illustrate, order, outline, paraphrase, provide example of, relate, rephrase, show, summarize, and translate.

  • Give an example of X.


Application questions challenge you to use and apply abstractions (e.g. ideas, concepts, principles, models, methods, theories, formulae) to explain concrete situations or solve problems.  Typical exam wording includes:  apply, build, calculate, choose, classify, demonstrate, execute, experiment with, how, implement, interpret, make use of, organize, relate, solve, utilize.

  • Show how X works.


Analysis questions require you to break down a whole into identifiable parts so that organizational structures, patterns and relationships between the parts can be made explicit.  Typical exam wording includes:  analyze (e.g. a case study), categorize, classify, compare, contrast, differentiate, discover, dissect, distinguish, divide, examine, inspect, recognize, relate, separate, solve, survey, and test.

  • Compare and contrast X with Y.


Evaluation questions challenge you to employ certain criteria in order to appraise the degree to which a concept (e.g. ideas, solutions, work, and theory) is satisfying, effective or valid.  Typical exam wording includes:  appraise, assess, choose, conclude, critique, decide, defend, determine, dispute, estimate, evaluate, judge, justify, measure, opinion, prioritize, prove, rate, recommend, select, support.

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of X and recommend changes to make it more effective.


These types of questions ask you to recognize relationships between parts, combine and organize components, and create a new whole.  Typical exam wording includes:  build, combine, compile, compose, create, construct, design, develop, estimate, formulate, imagine, improve, invent, modify, order, predict, propose, reconstruct, solve, summarize, and theorize.

  • Reconstruct X so that it solves a problem you have.


To prepare for an exam you should practice at least at the level the exam will require, and preferably one level above that.  For example, if your math exam required you to apply formulae to solve problems (application level) you should not stop at being able to recognize correct formulae (knowledge level) you would want to practice solving problems using the correct formulae (application level).


Reference:  Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D. R, (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning and teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.