Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago during the second half of the twentieth century, worked with a group of other researchers to design a system of classifying goals for the learning process. His efforts to develop this system were based on his work as “university examiner.” In this role he designed tests that would determine whether a student at the university should or should not receive a bachelor’s degree. This system is known as Bloom’s taxonomy, and it is now used at all levels of education to define and describe the process that students use to understand and think critically about what they are learning.
Bloom identified six levels of learning. The higher the level, the more critical thinking it requires.
Evaluation, Bloom’s highest level, is defined as using your ability to judge the value of ideas and information you are learning according to internal or external criteria. Evaluation includes appraising, arguing, defending, and supporting.
Synthesis is defined as bringing ideas together to form a new plan, proposal, or concept. Synthesis includes collecting, organizing, creating, and composing.
Analysis is defined as breaking down material into its parts so that you can understand its structure. Analysis includes categorizing, comparing, contrasting, and questioning.
Application is defined as using what you have learned, such as rules and methods, in new situations. Application includes choosing, illustrating, practicing, and interpreting.
Comprehension is defined as understanding the meaning of material. Comprehension includes classifying, describing, explaining, and translating.
Knowledge, the bottom level, is defined as remembering previously learned material. Knowledge includes arranging, defining, memorizing, and recognizing.
As you begin your first year of college, you will recognize material you’ve learned before and will practice your skills of defining and remembering. But you’ll soon find that Bloom’s bottom level isn’t going to get you very far. To remember new information, you’ll need to move to level 2 by understanding the information clearly enough so that you can describe the concepts to someone else. Many of your classes will require you to apply what you learn to new situations (level 3), and you’ll also need to use levels 4 and 5 to analyze (break apart) and synthesize (bring together) new concepts. Finally, you’ll reach level 6 as you begin trusting your own judgments in evaluating what you are learning. As you progress through your first year, be aware of how you use each of these levels to build your critical-thinking skills.