Assessment based on learning objectives

Assessment based on learning objectives? Pay attention to the right proficiency level

A learning objective is often used as a starting point for testing. This makes sense because a learning objective gives direction to what is to be learned and often has a direct relationship to professional practice. In this way, the assessment connects to both the subject matter and professional practice. This sounds pretty simple, but there is also a common mistake lurking when testing based on learning objectives….

What is a good learning objective?

A good learning objective states what the student must know and be able to do at the end of the learning activity. A learning objective also indicates what is important to know or be able to do in occupational practice. A learning objective is therefore an excellent starting point for a test. After all, if you test for learning objectives, the content of the test is relevant. An example of a learning objective is ‘The student can write an informative article’.

Proficiency level of the learning objective

Besides a content-based part, a learning objective also has a proficiency level. The proficiency level of a specific learning objective indicates what the candidate must be able to do with the content. For example, apply, reproduce, explain or analyse. The learning objective to be tested is usually formulated on the basis of a taxonomy, or a category system for learning materials. The required proficiency level corresponds to a place in the taxonomy. The taxonomy helps not only to classify the material but also to test it at the right level.

Testing at the correct proficiency level of the learning goal – an example

A common mistake when testing for learning objectives is that the test question or exam assignment does not match the intended proficiency level.


Examination assignment A

Write an informative article of approximately 500 words describing the Cairn Terrier breed of dog. Take as your target group people who are looking into buying a puppy.

Examination assignment B

A writer has been instructed to write an article about the Cairn Terrier for people who are considering buying a puppy. Set out the full structure of the article.


Why is the first example better? Because the student actually performs the action described in the learning objective. In this way you test whether or not the student is able to actually write the intended article. In the second case, you only test whether the student knows how the article should be structured. This is a test of whether the student can make a good start with the article (in terms of structure). You do not test if he can write it without mistakes, within the available time and with the right information for the target group. The learning objective ‘The student can write an informative article’ measures a complex skill (analysis), even if the subject is relatively simple. Only the good example truly involves analysis. The other example emphasises application, which is not in line with the proficiency level of the test.


The right proficiency level plays a crucial role in testing based on learning objectives. Keep a close eye on this so that the test matches what is required in occupational practice.


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