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Consider SOLO when designing assessment

Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive development originally classified active verbs into six levels, from lower order to higher order thinking:

  • Knowledge—the ability to recall what you have learned
  • Comprehension—understanding what you have learned
  • Application—putting to use the knowledge you have gained
  • Analysis—breaking down ideas into various parts
  • Synthesis—reconstructing the analysis in new ways
  • Evaluation—making judgments from what has been learned

Many students can demonstrate knowledge and comprehension, but are not clear how to apply their knowledge, or how to analyse, synthesise or evaluate. Most university assignments require them to perform these higher order tasks.

The SOLO (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) provides a different perspective for classifying understanding. The following example focuses on the qualitative differences between students’ responses in an open ended question.

Example of students responses and considering SOLO Taxonomy in the feedback

When using the SOLO Taxonomy, assessment must be aligned with the desired learning outcomes and eventual student needs if these are to be achieved. Assessment should, therefore, be authentic tasks for the discipline or profession.

Aligning Assessment

Don’t leave the development of assessment tasks to last. If you consider your assessment strategies when developing aims and learning outcomes, you can develop tasks that align with what you want your students to learn. Creating assessment tasks early will also help you judge how well they have achieved the outcomes.

The nature of assessment tasks influences the approach students take to learning. If you want your students to treat assessment as part of the learning process then you need to make sure that the assessment and feedback processes actually provide them with information about their performance that is informative to them.

What aspects of constructive alignment matters for assessment and feedback Copyright © UNSW Sydney

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about the SOLO taxonomy there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.


Biggs (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university. (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney