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As teachers and as people part of the world, we ask questions to
our learners and people everyday. Not all questions are on the
same level. Some questions are easy to answer where other
questions may require a great deal of thinking.

Bloom (1956) has provided us with his taxonomy to assist us to

compose questions on different levels of thinking. This taxonomy
ranges from lower to higher levels of cognitive thinking. These
levels are (I will shortly provide more detail of each level):
(1) Knowledge
(2) Comprehension
(3) Application
(4) Analysis
(5) Synthesis
(6) Evaluation


Dalton and Smith[1] (1986) provide us with the following examples:






How many...?
Make a list of the main
Who was it
Tell that...?
Make a timeline of
List Can you name
Describe the...?
Make a facts chart.
Relate Describe what
Write a list of any
Locate happened at...?
pieces of information
Write Who spoke
you can remember.
Find to...?
List all the .... in the
State Can you tell
Name why...?
Find the
Make a chart showing...
meaning of...?

What is...?

Which is true

or false...?



Explain Can you write in Cut out or draw

Interpret your own words...? pictures to show a

Outline Can you write a particular event.

Discuss brief outline...? Illustrate what you

Distinguish What do you think think the main idea

Predict could of happened was.

Restate next...? Make a cartoon

Translate Who do you strip showing the

Compare think...? sequence of

Describe events.
What was the Write and perform

main idea...? a play based on the

Who was the key story.

character...? Retell the story in

Can you your words.

distinguish Paint a picture of

between...? some aspect you

What differences like.

exist between...? Write a summary

Can you provide report of an event.

an example of Prepare a flow

what you mean...? chart to illustrate

Can you provide a the sequence of

definition for...? events.

Make a colouring




Solve Do you know Construct a model

Show another instance to demonstrate how

Use where...? it will work.

Illustrate Could this have Make a scrapbook

Construct happened in...? about the areas of

Complete Can you group by study.

Examine characteristics Take a collection of

Classify such as...? photographs to

What factors would demonstrate a

you change if...? particular point.

Can you apply the Make up a puzzle

method used to game suing the

some experience of ideas from the study

your own...? area.

What questions Make a clay model

would you ask of an item in the

of...? material.

From the Design a market

information given, strategy for your

can you develop a product using a

set of instructions known strategy as a

about...? model.

Would this Paint a mural using

information be the same materials.

useful if you had a Write a textbook

...? about... for others.



Analyse Which events Design a

Distinguish could have questionnaire to

Examine happened...? gather information.

Compare I ... happened, Write a commercial

Contrast what might the to sell a new

Investigate ending have product.

Categorise been? Conduct an

Identify How was this investigation to

Explain similar to...? produce information

Separate What was the to support a view.

Advertise underlying theme Make a flow chart to

of...? show the critical

What do you see Construct a graph to

as other possible illustrate selected

outcomes? information.

Why did ... Make a family tree

changes occur? showing

Can you relationships.

compare your ... Put on a play about

with that the study area.

presented in...? Write a biography of

Can you explain the study person.

what must have Prepare a report

happened about the area of

when...? study.

How is ... similar Arrange a party.

to ...? Make all the

What are some arrangements and

of the problems record the steps

of...? needed.

Can you Review a work of art

distinguish in terms of form,

between...? colour and texture.

What were some Review a film

of the motives

What was the

turning point in

the game?

What was the

problem with...?


Create Can you design Invent a machine to

Invent a ... to ...? do a specific task.

Compose Why not Design a building to

Predict compose a song house your study.

Plan about...? Create a new

Construct Can you see a product. Give it a

Design possible solution name and plan a

Imagine to...? marketing campaign.

Propose If you had Write about your

Devise access to all feelings in relation

Formulate resources how to...

would you deal Write a TV show,

with...? play, puppet show,

Why don't you role play, song or

devise your own pantomime about...?

way Design a record,

to deal with...? book, or magazine

What would cover for...?

happen if...? Make up a new

How many ways language code and

can you...? write material suing

Can you create it.

new and unusual Sell an idea.

uses for...? Devise a way to...

Can you write a Compose a rhythm

new recipe for a or put new words to

tasty dish? a known melody.

Can you develop

a proposal which



Judge Is there a better Prepare a list of

Select solution to... criteria to judge a

Choose Judge the value ... show. Indicate

Decide of... priority and

Justify Can you defend ratings.

Debate your position Conduct a debate

Verify about...? about an issue of

Argue Do you think ... is special interest.

Recommend a good or a bad Make a booklet

Assess thing? about 5 rules you

Discuss How would you see as important.

Rate have handled...? Convince others.

Prioritise What changes to Form a panel to

Determine ... would you discuss views, e.g.

recommend? "Learning at

Do you believe? School.".

Are you a ... Write a letter to ...

person? advising on

How would you changes needed

feel if...? at...

How effective Write a report.

are...? Prepare a case to

What do you think present your view

about...? about...

Dalton, J. & Smith, D., (1986). Extending Childrens Special


Abilities: Strategies for primary classrooms (pp. 36-37).

Or available at:
Levels of Understanding Assessed by
Multiple Choice Questions

During the 1948 convention of the American Psychological Association, a group of

educational psychologists decided it would be useful to classify different levels of
understanding that students can achieve in a course. In 1956, after extensive research
on educational goals, the group published their findings in a book edited by Harvard
professor Benjamin S. Bloom. Bloom's book lists six levels of intellectual
understanding, summarized in the chart below.

Label for Level of

Nature of Understanding in the Level
Knowledge Recognizing and recalling information, including

dates, events, persons, places

terms, definitions
basic facts, principles, theories
methods and procedures.

Comprehension Understanding the meaning of information, including

restating in your own words

translating from one form to another (e.g., numbers into
interpreting, explaining, summarizing

Application Applying general rules, methods, or principles to a new, specific

situation, including

classifying something as a specific example of a general

using an appropriate formula to solve a problem

Analysis Identifying the organization and patterns within a system by

identifying its component parts and the relationships among the
Synthesis Discovering or creating new connections, generalizations, patterns,
or perspectives.
Evaluation Using evidence and reasoned argument to judge how well a
proposal would accomplish a particular purpose.

(Adapted from: Bloom, B.S. (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The
classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. New York ;
Toronto: Longmans, Green.)

Because PSY 002 is Penn State's basic, introductory course in psychology, I expect
students to achieve primarily the first three levels of understanding in the course.
Consequently, almost all of the multiple choice questions in our exams aim to assess
those first three levels of understanding. I expect more of the three higher levels--
analysis, synthesis, and evaluation--in my advanced 200- and 400-level courses. In
those courses I usually assess understanding with projects, essay questions, or papers
rather than with multiple-choice questions. You will probably find that your other
instructors tend to grade introductory and upper-level courses differently.

Examples of Knowledge, Comprehension, and Application

(These are the same sample questions that appear on the review of the first

Examples of Multiple-Choice Questions for Basic Knowledge

1. Which of the following is one of the major approaches to psychology?

a. psychoanalysis
b. structuralism
c. psychiatry
d. New Age Movement

The textbook describes six major approaches to psychology on

pages WIP5-WIP10: behavioral, psychoanalytic, humanistic,
cognitive, neurobiological, and sociocultural. This was also
covered in the class lecture on Modern perspectives in
psychology. Structuralism is an older approach that died out
Correct answer: A completely. I did not cover it in class; it is described on pages
WIP4-WIP5. Psychiatry is a specific branch of medicine, not a
major approach to psychology. The New Age Movement, which
I did not cover, is described on page WIP12 as a
2. Sensation, perception, and memory are of particular
interest to which group of contemporary psychologists?

a. psychoanalysts
b. behaviorists
c. humanistic psychologists
d. cognitive psychologists

Areas of specialization in psychology are

described on pages WIP15-WIP17 of the
textbook. Sensation, perception and memory are
described in the textbook as topics that involve
pure (that is, basic) experimental research (page
Correct answer: D
WIP16). I talked about these areas in our class
on Psychology's careers and areas of
specialization. I was more specific than the
textbook in my lecture, describing these three
areas as part of the field of cognition.

Examples of Multiple-Choice Questions for Comprehension

2. Using operational definitions answers which question?

a. who
b. why
c. what
d. how

To answer this question correctly, you have to

understand two concepts: (1) the What-How-
Why questions posed by scientists (Who is not
one of the questions, so answer (a) can be
eliminated); and
(2) what we mean by an operational definition.
Correct answer: C
An operational definitions (Lecture on
the Experimental method is psychology) include
objective descriptions of the independent
variable (What happened to the subjects) and
dependent variable (What the subjects did) in an
experiment, so (c) "what" is the correct answers.
The question of how things came about concerns
explaining what was observed by identifying the
immediate causes. Identifying immediate causes
is the goal of experiments. Why questions
concern a deeper level of explanation through
theories of how the distant past has affected the
present. The What, How, and Why of
psychology were covered in the first lecture of
the course.

2. Why did John B. Watson reject the structuralist study of mental events?

a. He believed that structuralism relied too heavily on scientific methods.

b. He rejected the concept that psychologists should study observable behavior.
c. He believed that scientists should focus on what is objectively observable.
d. He actually embraced both structuralism and functionalism.

Both the textbook (page WIP5-6) and Lecture 2

(History of basic and applied psychology),
emphasize that Watson thought he could make
psychology more scientific by restricting itself to
what was objectively observable by several
persons, that is, observable stimuli in the
environment and the observable behaviors that
Correct answer: C are triggered by the stimuli. Comprehending an
issue means understanding the main points. For
this question, you would hopefully not be
distracted by the technical terms "structuralism"
and "functionalism" (which I did not even talk
about in class) but target right in on Watson's
main point--that in his opinion a scientific
psychology must restrict itself to observables.

Examples of Multiple-Choice Questions for Application

1. Explaining a student's poor performance on an exam to the unfair

difficulty level of the questions refers to what kind of cause?

a. immediate, external cause

b. immediate, internal cause
c. developmental cause
d. necessary and sufficient cause
e. weak cause

I talked about different types of causes of

behavior on the first day of class. There really is
such a concept as a necessary and sufficient
cause, but I didn't talk about this in class and it
doesn't apply to this example. Any cause outside
of a person is an external cause, and the
Correct answer: A
difficulty level of the test is a property of the test.
Possible internal causes for poor performance
might have been lack of motivation to study, low
intelligence, or sleepiness. Developmental causes
refer to history, which is not mentioned here. I
never mentioned weak causes.

2. A researcher shows erotic films to one group of subjects and violent films to
another group of subjects. The researcher then assesses the cooperativeness of each
group of subjects. The independent variable in this study is

a. the level of cooperativeness.

b. the type of film seen.
c. the level of sexual arousal in subjects.
d. the level of aggressiveness in subjects.

The independent variable describes how the

groups of subjects in an experiment are treated
differently by the experimenter (see textbook,
page MET-16 or your notes for the lecture on
the Experimental method in psychology). In this
example, the difference is in the type of film they
Correct answer: B
were shown. The films might result in
differences in (c) sexual arousal or (d)
aggressiveness, but these were not even studied
by the researcher. Option
(a) cooperativeness represents the dependent
variable in the study.
General Hints for Approaching Multiple Choice Tests
1. Understand that there is always one clearly best answer. My goal is not to trick
students or require you to make difficult judgments about two options that are
nearly equally correct. My goal is to design questions that students who
understand will answer correctly and students who do not understand will
answer incorrectly.
2. I never provide two options that are nearly equally correct unless I provide a
choice such as (e) a and b above, if both (a) and (b) are correct. I don't like to
use options such as "a and b above," "all of the above," or "none of the above"
very often, but I will once in a while. So make sure you read all of the choices
before answering.
3. You are wise to go back over your answers to verify that you have answered
the questions correctly. However, you should NOT change an answer unless
you are almost absolutely certain that you either misread the question or
options or overlooked one of the options. Research has shown that if you are
just plain unsure about a question, your first instinct is most often correct so
that changing your answer is not a good strategy.
4. Don't read unnecessary complications into the questions. There are no hidden
meanings in the wordings of my questions. I use college-level vocabulary
words, but the meanings of the questions are meant to be plain and
5. If a question really stumps you, skip it and go back to it when you have gone
through all of the questions. But don't forget to go back and put
down something for every question. A blank answer is always wrong, and
there is no penalty for guessing. The last thing you should do before turning in
your answer sheet is to check that you have answered every single question.
6. If the correct answer does not jump out at you right away, see if you can
eliminate some of the options as definitely wrong. It's okay to write on the test
booklet, so you can cross out options you think are incorrect.
7. Most questions will have four options, lettered (a), (b), (c), and (d); sometimes
I add a fifth option, (e). I do not have a favorite option letter that I use more
often. I do not try to make sure to use an equal number of (a)s, (b)s, etc. The
pattern of marks on your answer sheet will not spell out a satanic message. So
concentrate on the content of the questions and response options, and pay no
attention to how many times you are marking a particular letter.
8. DO make sure you choose the letter corresponding to the answer of your
choice. I feel almost as bad as the student who knew the answer was (d) but
accidentally marked (c), but there's nothing I can do about that.
9. DO follow the advice in the textbook (pages xiii-xiv) about spreading out your
review rather than cramming and about being in good physical shape through
plentiful sleep, proper diet, and exercise. Staying up all night studying is more
likely to hurt than help your performance.

Dr. Laurie A. Roades at California State University, Pomona, authored a web page on
multiple choice questions that served as a source of ideas for the layout of the page.
I also acknowledge a number of web pages as sources of information on Bloom's
taxonomy of levels of understanding. My primary source was:
Multiple Choice Questions and Bloom's Taxonomy from the University of Cape
Town, South Africa
Other pages I found useful were:
Bloom's Taxonomy from the Learning Skills Program, Counselling Services,
University of Victoria
Bloom's Taxonomy from the Distance Learning Resource Network
Judith K. Welch's page on Bloom's Taxonomy from the University of Central Florida
Gnter Krumme's page on Bloom's Taxonomy from the University of Washington

John A. Johnson
Last modified 08-26-2003