This section provides suggestions for designing assessments according to learning outcomes that target primarily lower order thinking skills. When designing diagnostic, formative, or summative assessments, it’s important to have a strategic approach. The course-level outcomes should be broken down into module-level objectives, and even further to lesson-level outcomes. You should be able to determine whether a given outcome relates to lower order thinking or higher order thinking skills.


Bloom's taxonomy with six layers. From the bottom to the top, they are Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analysing, Evaluating, and Creating. A vertical double arrow on the left side shows a continuum ranging from lower-order thinking skills at the bottom to higher-order thinking skills at the top.
Figure 1. Bloom’s revised taxonomy which shows its layers organized into higher- or lower-order thinking skills

Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs by Fractus Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Test your knowledge of lower-level or lower-order thinking skills with the following questions.

When you have all of your outcomes listed, you can use them all to plan the whole assessment approach. For example, in a first-year undergraduate course, the focus might be on students building a knowledge base for most of the course. In this case, the assessments would likely consist more of lower order thinking skills. In contrast, a fourth-year research project will focus on higher-order thinking skills such as synthesizing data, providing evidence-based judgements, and criticizing the validity and reliability of a resource. Fourth year courses don’t have to exclude lower-order thinking skills; they just don’t tend to focus on them. Let’s explore in greater detail what is meant by lower-order thinking skills.

For low-order thinking skills, assessment in the form of automated quizzes in Avenue to Learn is recommended. With this approach, the instructor can reserve more time and energy for interactions that support higher-order thinking skills in activities that will be described in the next section. In this section, we explore three types of low-order thinking skills and different types of questions might be designed for them in Avenue to Learn: declarative knowledge, conceptual knowledge, and principles.

In case you are new to creating quizzes in Avenue to Learn, there is a tutorial available to get you started.

A summary is provided in the form of a bulleted list at the end of this section.

Declarative knowledge

Declarative knowledge refers to information such as facts, dates, labels, and lists, among other types. You might use the following examples of verbs to write learning outcome that refers to declarative knowledge: define , recite, explain, describe, summarize, list, paraphrase. In an assessment based on declarative knowledge, the student should be able to recall information. They should not be asked to apply such information; application is in a different category of thinking skills .(Smith & Ragan, 2005). To assess declarative knowledge, you might use automated quizzes in Avenue to Learn. If you want students to recall information, you might use the following types of question: Written response, Short answer, Multi-Short Answer, or Fill-in-the-Blanks questions. Considering that these quizzes require a strong ability to remember exact terms, there is a risk that students might perform poorly despite actually grasping the material. Thus, it is recommended to use such quizzes sparingly or for formative, practice tests with unlimited attempts and corrective feedback. Such an approach facilitates retention of declarative knowledge.

Another option is to have students identify or recognize information. To this end, you might use  Multiple choice questions (where only a single answer can be correct), Multi-select (where multiple answers can be correct), True-or-False, or Matching questions. If the aim is to have students provide a definition using or explanation by paraphrasing an idea, you might use the written response option.

Conceptual knowledge

Students demonstrate conceptual knowledge when they can classify or categorize items as concrete or abstract concepts correctly and across contexts. The items may be familiar or not. A student classifies a four-legged furry, sometimes barking domesticated canine as a dog. Concrete concepts are recognized by their physical characteristics as determined by the senses. Abstract concepts (also called defined concepts) are recognized as fitting a given definition (Smith & Ragan, 2005).

A concept is a set of specific objects, symbols, or events which are grouped together on the basis of shared characteristics and which  can be referenced by a particular name or symbol (Merrill & Tennyson, 1977, p. 3). Examples of concepts are: adjective, pyramid, Baroque Art, competitor, igneous, fluid. To distinguish conceptual knowledge from declarative knowledge, here is an example: a student might be able to recall the definition of the term “polygon”, demonstrating declarative knowledge. If the same student cannot identify a polygon among a set of images, then they do not possess the associated conceptual knowledge (Smith & Ragan, 2005).

To assess conceptual knowledge, it is possible to have students use the Written Response option to explain why a previously unencountered instance is an example or a non-example of a concept. Alternatively, students can be asked to categorize instances as examples or non-examples of a concept using the Matching type of question.


Principles are rules that describe relationships among at least two concepts. Thus, they are also known as relational rules. They combine concepts in cause-and-effect or “if-then” statements such as:

  • If gas is heated, then it expands.
  • If demand goes up, then supply goes up.
  • If the subject is plural, then the plural verb form is used (Smith & Ragan, 2005, p. 81).

Formulae are expressions of principles too. For examples Power = Work/Time. This formula can be interpreted such that work expended over a given amount of time corresponds to a certain amount of power (Smith & Ragan, 2005).

Principles allow for predictions and explanations of phenomena. For example, a student demonstrates their knowledge of a principle by predicting that a gas will expand (perhaps as shown by increasing a balloon’s volume) when it is heated. This knowledge is also demonstrated when a student predicts that a balloon filled with air will shrink when it is chilled.

To assess a student’s grasp of a principle, one might have the student simply state the principle to demonstrate theoretical knowledge. A student can identify situations that correspond to the principle, apply the principle in a virtual or real lab, or judge whether a principle has been applied correctly or not.

The following list provides recommendations of question types to use in Avenue to Learn. The recommendations are based on the type of thinking skill, e.g. Recall information.

Declarative knowledge

  • Recall information
    • Short answer
    • Multi-Short Answer
    • Fill-in-the-Blanks
  • Identify or recognise
    • Multiple choice
    • Multi-select
    • True-or-False
    • Matching
  • Paraphrase
    • Written response

Conceptual knowledge

  • Explain an instance as an example or non-example of a concept.
    • Written response
  • Categorize an instance as an example or non-example of a concept.
    • Matching
  • Provide examples of a concept
    • Written response

Knowledge of principles

  • State the principle to demonstrate theoretical knowledge
    • Written response
  • Identify situations that correspond to the principle
    • Multiple choice
    • Multi-select
    • True-or-False
  • Explain whether a principle has been applied correctly or not in a given situation
    • Multiple choice
    • True or false


Merrill, M. D. & Tennyson, R. D. (1977). Teaching concepts: An instructional design guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (2004). Instructional design. John Wiley & Sons.



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Blended Teaching: A Guide for Applying Flexible Practices during COVID-19 by Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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