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ASK, NOT TELL

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  • David

6 levels of questions

Updated: Mar 13



Following my learning from the William Rothwell’s session, I now incorporate a course-end quiz into most of my new courses.  There are all different test formats – essay, demonstration, fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice…  Amongall, I prefer the multiple-choice question since it takes minimal time to check the answers.


I am drafting questions for a Train-The-Trainer course.  I want to test the learners on Adult Learning Principle.  I am thinking… my question can be:


Option A – Which of the following is NOT an Adult Learning Principle?

  1. Problem-Centered- Adults are motivated to learn so they can perform a task or solve a problem.

  2. Association – Adults need to build on experiences.

  3. Color – Adults learn more effectively when their workbooks contain more than 5 different colors. (Answer)

  4. Variety – Adults learn more rapidly from a variety of instructional methods.

Or the question can be:


Option B – Which ‘Adult Learning Principle’ is NOT applied in the following learning experience?


‘The trainer broke the 1-day system training into 4 sessions covering the 4 major components of the new core banking system.  In each session, he first lectured for 45 minutes and then ran an activity.  In the 1st session, the learners were asked to present back the content in small group.  In the 2nd one about the enquiry function, the learners performed a task to find out information from the system as requested.  In the 3rd one about the transaction function, the learners were asked to construct wrong transactions on purpose and passed to the another small group for checking.  And in the final one, the learners challenges each other in small groups by composing their own questions on the content.’

  1. Problem-Centered- Adults are motivated to learn so they can perform a task or solve a problem.

  2. Association – Adults need to build on experiences. (Answer)

  3. Self-Concept- Adults need to be autonomous and self-directing.

  4. Variety – Adults learn more rapidly from a variety of instructional methods.

Which option is better? Quite obviously option B is better because it pushes the learners to apply.  So, questions can  be asked differently to test different level of understanding.  In fact, I found something interesting from the internet – there are 6 levels of questions:

  1. Knowledge – Remembering previously learned material, e.g., definitions, concepts, principles, formulas

  2. Comprehension – Understanding the meaning of remembered material, usually demonstrated by explaining in one’s own words or citing examples

  3. Application – Using information in a new context to solve a problem, to answer a question, or to perform another task. The information used may be rules, principles, formulas, theories, concepts, or procedures

  4. Analysis – Breaking a piece of material into its parts and explaining the relationship between the parts

  5. Synthesis – Putting parts together to form a new whole, pattern or structure

  6. Evaluation – Using a set of criteria, established by the student or specified by the instructor, to arrive at a reasoned judgment

It gets more challenging to the learners as we go down the list.  Looking back at my example, option A is probably ‘Knowledge’ whilst option b is ‘Analysis’.  For ‘Comprehension’, I probably should ask them to define ‘Self-Concept’.  For ‘Application’, I would ask them to describe what to add in a particular training (e.g. one of their own) in order to make it ‘Variety’.  For ‘Synthesis’, I should ask them to construct a case where all 5 principles are present.  For ‘Evaluation’, I should show them a training video clip and ask them to criticise against the principle.


These 6 levels are very helpful for us to make the test more effective.  Well, it may sound quite academic.   And it would also be challenging to the trainers to make every question of the ‘Evaluation’ level.   I guess for the very least this model reminds us not to ask just ‘Knowledge’ level of question!!

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