Developing Objectives and Relating them to Assessment

Ms Sue Bannister
Assessment Lecturer
Education Centre
Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
University of Western Australia
May 2002



When you have mastered the material in this Guide, you should be able to

  1. write clear objectives which define the specific outcomes or competencies to be achieved in terms of skills, knowledge, attitudes or values,
  2. form the basis upon which to select or design instruction materials, content or teaching techniques,
  3. provide the basis for determining or assessing when the instruction purpose has been accomplished,
  4. provide a framework within which a learner can organize his or her efforts to complete the learning tasks.

Hint: well-written objectives should be clearly defined, observable, measurable and valid.

Writing Objectives

There are various ways of writing objectives. Besides referring to themes, you might also classify according to educational domains. The three groups of domains identified by educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom are commonly used to group objectives and learning outcomes. These are:

  • Cognitive domain – encompasses intellectual or thinking skills (Termed Knowledge Objectives)
  • Psychomotor domain – encompasses physical skills or the performance of actions. (Termed Skills Objectives)
  • Affective domain – encompasses attitudes and values (Termed Attitudes Objectives)

Levels of Objectives Writing

Within each Domain there are several levels you may wish to specify in your objectives writing. This will depend upon the extent of detail that is required in the curriculum and what you know about the learning style and readiness of the students.

Pyramid divided into 5 segments at equal intervals. Knowledge or cognitive arrow points to it while make decisions based on diagnosis, investigation and management comes out.

Pyramid divided into 6 segments at regular intervals. Skills or psychomotor points into it with perform a complete physical examination coming out.

Pyramid divided into 5 segments at equal intervals with Attitudes or affective goes in and Further develop a professional attitude and conduct comes out.

In each Domain, Bloom identified several levels, each with a list of suitable verbs for describing that level in written objectives. The following table describes the cognitive domain, and levels are arranged from the least complex levels of thinking to the most complex levels of thinking.

(Source: Bloom, B., Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, 1956)
Level and Meaning Use these words in written objectives to describe the associated cognitive level:
Knowledge: The remembering of previously learned material (recall of facts) define, distinguish, identify, inquire, label, list, match, memorize, name, read, recall, recognize, relate, repeat, record, select
Comprehension: The ability to grasp the meaning of the knowledge being learned associate, describe, differentiate, discuss, explain, extend, generalize, give examples, illustrate, infer, interpret locate, rearrange, reorder, restate, rewrite, summarize, transform, translate
Application: The ability to use learning materials in a new way apply, calculate, choose, classify, demonstrate, develop, generalize, illustrate, operate, organize, practise, restructure, sketch, solve, transfer, use
Analysis: The ability to break material down into its parts so that its organizational structure may be understood analyse, categorize, classify, compare, contrast, deduce, describe, detect, diagram, discriminate, differentiate, distinguish, experiment, group, inspect, point out, put into lists, question, sub-divide, test
Synthesis: The ability to combine previous experiences with new material to form a whole new structure combine, compile, create, design, generate, integrate, modify, plan, produce, propose, solve
Evaluation: The ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose appraise, assess, choose, compare, conclude, consider, criticize, evaluate, judge, measure, rate, score, select, support, validate, value

Hint: Group together related Objectives

A variety of cognitive levels should be represented in the objectives.

Some objectives should deal with facts, some with concepts and some with the application of the information. Assuming that the objectives are well written, this will also lead to exam questions that address a variety of cognitive levels. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels for grouping objectives, the following provides some examples of how you might use these for assessment purposes:

Knowledge – Can students RECALL information?
Who, What, Where, When, How Which one
How much Name
Describe Label
Define List
Memorise Reproduce
Literal questions Recall
Comprehension – Can students EXPLAIN ideas?
Explain What are they saying
Describe in your own words Explain what is happening
Inferential questions Give an example
Summarise State in 5 words
What would go better Explain what is meant
Select the definition What restriction would you add
Read the graph table Translate
This represents Outline
Condense this paragraph Locate
What part doesn’t fit Match
Application – Can students USE ideas?
What is this used for? How would you use
Make a model Tell what would happen
If…how Demonstrate how
Construct how Show how
How much would there be if… Design a lesson
Choose the statements that don’t apply  
Analysis – Do students SEE relationships?
Whole into parts Analyse, Research, Survey
Group, Categorise, Compare and Contrast What inconsistencies, fallacies
Arrange What is the relationship
Chart What is the function of
Diagram What conclusions
Reason for… What does the author believe
Investigate Make a distinction
Cause for What motive is there
Conclude State the point of view
Separate What relationship
Similar Graph
Like Differentiate
Dissect Categorize
Distinguish fact from fiction, fact and inference, fact from opinion, advantage from disadvantage, good from poor reason What persuasive technique
Synthesis – Can students combine ideas and CREATE a new entity?
New ways of doing Take risks
Consider the unexpected Pose an alternative
Hypothesis create
Compose Solve
Design Blend
Construct How else would you
Build Combine
Solve the following Imagine
Plan Predict
Link concepts in an unusual and flexible way Make
What if Make a film
Invent Propose an alternative


Evaluation – Can students make JUDGEMENTS and support them?
Evaluate quality, relevance, reliability, truth Which is best
Accuracy and effectiveness Choose and explain why
Rate Rank
Defend Choose
Grade Order
Verify Dispute
Criticise Defend
Find the errors Editorialise
Appraise Judge
What fallacies, consistencies, inconsistencies appear  
Which is more important, better, moral, appropriate, inappropriate, useful, clearer, suits the purpose, achieves the goal, logical, valid  

Stating Objectives clearly

In order for objectives to provide a useful basis for creating test questions, they must contain verbs that describe observable, measurable, achievable actions and specific levels of thinking, because these are things that can be tested. The words in the left of the table below are difficult to assess, to recognise whether the objective has been achieved.

Hint: Avoid using verbs that represent actions or concepts that are difficult to measure such as appreciate, be familiar with, believe, comprehend, enjoy, know, learn, master and understand

Avoid words like….. Use words like…..
Know List
Understand Describe, explain
Be familiar with Evaluate
Appreciate Identify
Be aware of Design
Have a good grasp of Explain
Have a knowledge of Select
Realise the significance of Distinguish
Believe Construct
Be interested in Solve

Steps in writing objectives

Hint: Work backwards from existing data

  1. Review existing course aims, objectives, literature, course documents and reports to benchmark appropriate standards required for objectives writing
  2. Identify professional attributes of ideal graduating students (eg refer to professional bodies, Australian Medical Council Guidelines). Graduate attributes are used to decide appropriate learning outcomes for the course
  3. Deduce learning outcomes from desirable terminal practice-based behaviours implicit in graduate attributes
  4. Assign priority to the course themes
  5. Assign priority to learning levels (knowledge, skills, attitudes).
    The knowledge domain for Medicine should be complete and comprehensive,(as is presented in the Medical Core Skills list) This means that knowledge content and skills content need to be carefully detailed.
  6. Agree on a basic educational philosophy which captures preferred teaching methodologies and assessment approaches
  7. Establish ways of measuring attainment of objectives/learning outcomes via the selection of appropriate assessment tools
  8. Review the appropriateness of objectives and their correlation with what is taught and assessed.

Design Backwards pointing away from a sideways pyramid and deliver forward pointing towards it. 5 segments of it include Intended: learning outcomes of the lesson, learning outcomes of the unit, learning outcomes of the course, aims and objectives of the Faculty, and mission of the institution.

Checking the quality of objectives

  • Do objectives reflect appropriately all the intended outcomes and do they sit well with the present state of knowledge of the students?
  • Are they observable and measurable and the outcomes clearly defined to a specified standard or set of conditions?
  • Are they attainable by intended learners and in the time available?
  • Do they reflect the course and curriculum aims?
Remember, objectives should:
  • define specific outcomes or competencies to be achieved in terms of skills, content mastery, attitudes or values
  • form the basis upon which to select or design instruction materials, content or techniques
  • provide the basis for determining or assessing when the instruction purpose has been accomplished
  • provide a framework within which learners can organize their efforts to complete the learning tasks

Well written Objectives and Learning Outcomes:

  • Are carefully worded to include standards, conditions and terms which must be met.

    Criteria/standards: - defined levels of accuracy, quality, quantity, time constraints

  • include special conditions that apply to the actual activity that the learner will perform

    Performance: the learner will..(verb)…

  • specify the degree of accuracy or proficiency that the learner must meet.

    Conditions: given “x”…. without “y”

Choose assessment methods from the following categories to suit your desired objectives, learning outcomes and course content

Demonstrating knowledge and understanding
Essays reflective journals/portfolios
Report Critical incident analysis
Short answer questions Concept mapping
Reflective case summary Case based article
Videotaped consultation Critical appraisal
Assessing critical thinking skills
Essay Critical evaluation of the literature
Report Critique on an issue
Critical incident analysis Reflective journal writing
Assessing Peer feedback Seminar presentation
Assessing problem solving skills
Simulation Problem Based Learning (PBL)
Report Poster
Clinical assessment Simulated patient interviews
Essay Question Viva voce
Observed long case  
Assessing performance of procedures and demonstrating techniques
Mastery performance tests OSCE
Video skill assessment Web-based skills assessment
Assessment of competence in simulation Ward rating
Case History exercises Special clinical skills exam
Clinical tutor evaluation Laboratory reports
Observed long case Case presentation
Clinical tutor assessment Case assessment
Assessing ability to reflectively integrate learning into professional practice
Reflective journals Portfolio
Simulations Critical incidents
Case Study Project
PBL Log diary
Clinical tutor evaluation Clinical experience record
Videotaped consultation Reflective case summary
Case presentation Clinical tutor rating
Assessing independent learning skills Learning contracts Portfolios Peer assessment Project Critical appraisal Reflective case summary Clinical experience record Case based article
Assessing collaborative learning skills
Group projects where the group process and group outcomes are assessed (using criteria against which the group can assess itself and determine future, more effective ways of functioning) Peer tutoring
Assessing research skills
Research assignment that is professionally relevant (and where students are assisted to develop the requisite skills)
Develop a database on a particular area Literature review
Writing an annotated bibliography Research paper
Case based article  

Hint: Testing experts recommend covering each objective with more than one assessment tool

  • As you can see, some assessment methods can be used to assess more than one objective in the same activity.
  • Some assessment methods can also cover more than one level of learning at the same time, depending upon how well the objective or learning outcome has been written.

The following grid shows how you might plan a Biology exam to include questions at the various cognitive levels. Exam content is then chosen to match the level.

Content area Recall / Recognition
No of questions at this level
Skills Comprehension Application
No of questions at this level
Critical Thinking Problem Solving
No of questions at this level
Total Allocation of marks
No of questions at this level
Biochemistry 3 12 0 15
Cells/Tissues 4 13 3 20
Genetics Reproduction 2 10 3 15
Invertebrates 4 6 0 10
Vertebrates 5 11 4 20
Plant life 2 6 2 10
Ecological 0 7 3 10
Total 20 65 15 100


You can also write multiple choice questions (MCQs) which measure at the various cognitive learning levels, such as in the following Biology example

  1. Knowledge
    Which of the following are raw materials or photosynthesis?
    1. Water, heat, sunlight
    2. Carbon dioxide, sunlight oxygen
    3. Water, carbon dioxide, sunlight
    4. Sunlight, oxygen, carbohydrates
    5. Water, carbon dioxide, carbohydrates
  2. Comprehension
    If living cells similar to those found on earth were found on another planet where there was no molecular oxygen, which cell part would most likely be absent?
    1. Cell membrane
    2. Nucleus
    3. Mitochondria
    4. Ribosome
    5. Chromosomes
  3. Application
    Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an autosomal recessive condition. About one in every fifty Individuals is heterozygous for the gene but shows no symptoms of the disorder. If you select a symptom-free male and a symptom –free female at random, what is the probability that they would have a child afflicted with PKU?
    1. (.02)(.02)(.25) = 0.0001 = 0.01%, or about 1/10,000
    2. (.02)(.02) = 0.0004 = 0.04%, or about 1/2,500
    3. (1)(50)(0) = 100% = all
    4. (1)(50)(0) = 0 = none
    5. 1/50 = 2%, or 2/100
  4. Analysis
    Mitochondria are called the powerhouses of the cell because they make energy available for cellular metabolism. Which of the following observations is most cogent in supporting this concept of mitochondrial function?
    1. ATP occurs in the mitochondria
    2. Mitochondria have a double membrane
    3. The enzymes of the Krebs cycle, and molecules required for terminal respiration, are found n mitochondria
    4. Mitochondria are found in almost all kinds of plant and animal cells
    5. Mitochondria abound in muscle tissue
  5. Evaluation
    Disregarding the relative feasibility of the following procedures, which of these lines of research is likely to provide us with the most valid and direct evidence as to revolutionary relations among different species?
    1. Analysis of the chemistry of stored food in female gametes
    2. Analysis of the form of the Krebs cycle
    3. Observation of the form and arrangement of the endoplasmic reticulum
    4. Comparison of details of the molecular structure of DNA
    5. Determination of the total protein in the cell

Attachment: Developing Objectives and Relating them to Assessment [PDF, 127 KB]