Bloom's Taxonomy

What is Bloom's taxonomy?

Bloom's taxonomy is a classification system of educational objectives based on the level of student understanding necessary for achievement or mastery. Educational researcher Benjamin Bloom and colleagues have suggested six different cognitive stages in learning (Bloom, 1956; Bloom, Hastings & Madaus, 1971).

Bloom's cognitive domains are, in order, with definitions: 

1. Knowledge

Involves the simple recall of information; memory of words, facts and concepts

2. Comprehension

The lowest level of real understanding; knowing what is being communicated

3. Application

The use of generalized knowledge to solve a problem the student has not seen before

4. Analysis

Breaking an idea or communication into parts such that the relationship among the parts is made clear

5. Synthesis

Putting pieces together so as to constitute a pattern or idea not clearly seen before

6. Evaluation

Use of a standard of appraisal; making judgments about the value of ideas, materials or methods within an area

How can the use of Bloom's taxonomy benefit your students, including those with special needs?

There is an implied hierarchy to Bloom's categories, with knowledge representing the simplest level of cognition and the evaluation category representing the highest and most complex level. Teachers can identify the level of chosen classroom objectives and create assessments to match those levels. One can write items for any given level. With objectively scored item formats, it is fairly simple to tap lower levels of Bloom's taxonomy and more difficult, but not impossible, to measure at higher levels. By designing items to tap into teacher-chosen levels of cognitive complexity, classroom assessments increase validity.

Teachers should not worry too much about the fine distinctions between the six levels as defined by Bloom. For example, comprehension and application are commonly treated as synonymous as it is the ability to apply what is learned that indicates comprehension (Phye, 1997). Most classroom testing theorists and classroom teachers today pay the most attention to the distinction between the knowledge level and all the rest of the levels. Most teachers, except at introductory stages of brand new areas, prefer to teach and measure to objectives that are above the knowledge level.

Choosing the appropriate Bloom level for test items 

Teachers choose the appropriate cognitive level for classroom objectives and a quality assessment is designed to measure how well those objectives have been met. Most items written by teachers and those on pre-written tests packaged with textbooks and teaching kits are at the knowledge level. Most researchers consider this unfortunate because classroom objectives should be, and usually are, at higher cognitive levels than simply memorizing information. When new material is being introduced, however (and at any age, pre-school through advanced professional training) an assessment probably should include at least a check that basic new facts have been learned. When teachers decide to measure beyond the knowledge level, the appropriate level for items depends on the developmental level of students. The cognitive level of students, particularly their ability to think and understand abstractly and their ability to solve problems using multiple steps, should determine the best level for classroom objectives, and, therefore, the best level for test items. Researchers believe that teachers should test over what they teach in the same way that they teach it.

How can you write test items using Bloom's taxonomy?

Teachers can follow these guidelines for creating items or tasks that require the type of thinking which defines each level of Bloom's taxonomy: 

Cognitive Level

Test Item Example

Characteristics of Test Items

1. Knowledge

Who wrote The Great Gatsby?

  1. Faulkner
  2. Fitzgerald
  3. Hemingway
  4. Steinbeck

Requires only rote memory to answer correctly. 
Requires such skills as recall, recognition, repeating back.

2. Comprehension

What is a prehensile tail?

Includes phrases like in your own words andwhat does this mean? 
Requires such skills as paraphrasing, summarizing, and explaining.

3. Application

If a farmer owns 40 acres of land and buys 16 acres more, how many acres of land does she own?

Includes words like use, do, modify, compute, produce. 
Requires such skills as performing operations and solving problems.

4. Analysis

Draw a map of our school, identifying the location of each restroom.

Includes phrases like identify, break down, draw a diagram. 
Requires such skills as outlining, listening, logic and observation.

5. Synthesis

Based on your understanding of the characters, describe what might happen in a sequel to Flowers for Algernon.

Includes words like compare, contrast, build. 
Requires such skills as organization, design and creativity.

6. Evaluation

Which musical film performer was probably the best athlete?

  1. Maurice Chevalier
  2. Frank Sinatra
  3. Fred Astaire
  4. Gene Kelly

Includes phrases like support, explain, apply standards, judge. 
Requires such skills as making informed judgments, criticism, forming opinions.



Research Articles

Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The 
classification of educational goals. Handbook 1. Cognitive domain.
New York: McKay.
Bloom, B.S., Hastings, J.T., & Madaus, G.F. (1971). Handbook on formative 
and summative evaluation of student learning. New York: McGraw-
Phye, G.D. (1997). Handbook of classroom assessment: Learning, 
adjustment, and achievement. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains 
Wellness supports for students