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Principle 1 - Assessment tests intended learning outcomes

Assessment tasks and associated criteria must test student attainment of the intended learning outcomes effectively and at the appropriate level. Where learning outcomes state skills and attitudes as well as knowledge, this should be appropriately reflected in the chosen assessment methods. This is known as constructive alignment.

Assessment must be aligned to learning outcomes. It is also essential to define learning outcomes effectively, efficiently and at the appropriate level as these will form the basis of your assessment criteria. Although you will be assessing against university-wide standards, the specific assessment criteria for your module need to define characteristics of performance in line with the learning outcomes that you are assessing.

Intended learning outcomes capture the answer to the essential questions:

  • What do you want your students to know or to be able to do?
  • What will the student do that demonstrates learning?
  • What is the context within which that learning will be demonstrated?
  • How well will that student be required to demonstrate that learning?

Therefore the very first thing to determine when constructing learning outcomes is the behaviour that you wish your student to demonstrate. As one of the main points of intended learning outcomes is to assess whether and how well students have achieved them, this behaviour must necessarily be observable (and therefore assessable). As demonstration tends to mean doing something, the verb in the learning outcome assumes central significance.

Some verbs describe fairly straightforward behaviour - for example, "to describe". Others can be more complex - for example, "to compare". A learner can only "compare" if s/he first "describes" both things that s/he is comparing. It follows, then, that comparing is more complex than describing. A hierarchy of cognitive learning outcomes based on their complexity and derived from ideas have evolved, and are now widely used. They draw upon a framework for categorising educational objectives, devised in 1956 by educational psychologist Benjamin S. Bloom with collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl, in order to promote higher order thinking. This device, commonly known as Bloom's Taxonomy, is a useful tool when authoring learning outcomes, particularly when modulating outcomes to level descriptors. It was revised by Anderson and Krathwohl (one of the original collaborators) in 2001 (the changes are neatly set out here), and the new model is illustrated below.

Verb tables threaten to fetishise language at the expense of authentic pedagogic thinking. Generating formulaic outcomes appears to be more about bureaucracy than pedagogy. However, if you really think about your learning outcomes closely, then they can be powerful tools for designing learning.


Key question

Associated verbs


Can the student create a new point of view or product?

Assemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, write


Can the student justify a stand or position?

Appraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, evaluate


Can the student distinguish between different parts?

Appraise, compare, contrast, criticise, differentiate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test


Can the student use information in a new way?

Choose, demonstrate, dramatise, employ, illustrate, locate, recognise, report, select, translate, paraphrase


Can the student explain ideas or concepts?

Classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognise, report, select, translate, paraphrase


Can the student recall or remember information?

Define, duplicate, list, memorise, recall, repeat, state

Where learning outcomes state skills and attitudes as well as knowledge, the assessment methods should provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and develop these.

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