The benefits of taxonomy in (digital) testing

The benefits of taxonomy in (digital) testing

Taxonomies are a useful tool in developing good tests and exams. A taxonomy helps you to better classify and categorise test questions. Not familiar with this method? Read 4 reasons to use taxonomies in (digital) testing.

What is a taxonomy?

A taxonomy is a chosen, artificial classification of objects. Simply put, a grouping method of your choice. For example, if you choose to classify foods according to the ‘five basic groups’ (proteins, grains, fruit and vegetables etc.) your taxonomy will look different to that of a nutritional classification (carbohydrates, fats, energy, etc.). In education we use a taxonomy to categorise learning activities and learning objectives. A taxonomy in testing focuses on the classification of test questions.

The use of taxonomies in learning activities

To better understand what a taxonomy can do for testing, we will first discuss how you can organise learning activities. What a number of taxonomies have in common is the ordering of simple, lower-order learning activities into complex, higher-order learning activities.

  • Examples of lower-order learning activities are: recognising, remembering and enumerating;
  • Examples of higher-order learning activities are: applying, creating, evaluating, interpreting and planning.

The impact of the classification can be very great. For example, a test that measures thinking skills is different from one that measures knowledge. Differences in classification can even lead to different test forms. A knowledge test, for example, is well suited to lower-order learning activities, whereas a thesis assignment or practical exam is more appropriate for higher-order learning activities.

Some examples:

Lower-order Higher-order
 Traffic theory  Identifying the meaning of traffic signs  Explaining who has right of way and why in various situations
 Transport and logistics  Knowing which documents are required for export  Making transport plans
 Woodworking  Identify the uses of woodworking tools  Hanging a shelf on the wall
 Administration  Knowing different VAT rates  Calculating VAT of different goods and services


The value of categorisation in testing

The use of taxonomy contributes to the quality of testing in several ways:

1. Using a taxonomy guides learning

A candidate can better prepare for the test if he knows the proportion given to knowledge, understanding, application and analysis. You prepare differently when you have to recognise things (memorise) than when you have to be able to apply or explain models (practise, explain in own words).

2. The validity of the test increases

As well as classifying learning objectives, a taxonomy guides the test developer in determining the content of the test. The test developer knows whether to include knowledge questions or comprehension or application questions. With a taxonomy it is easy to check whether the tests and test questions match the intended level of the learning goals. The test better measures what it is supposed to measure. It can even be said that the validity of the test increases through the use of a taxonomy.

3. The equivalence of tests increases

If you use a taxonomy to indicate the intended level of a test, you can check whether all tests meet that level. Suppose you set a standard that each test should contain between 30% and 40% application questions. If you classify the test questions you can immediately see whether this is indeed the case. This can be very important, e.g. because application questions often take much more time than knowledge questions and are sometimes more difficult.

4. Support for the test increases

It is easy to say that a test is too easy or too difficult. However, with a taxonomy you can show that the level of the test has been well thought out. Of course, support for the test increases if you develop equivalent, valid tests.


Even its use sometimes leads to discussions, a taxonomy can help you make the right choices. Taxonomies lead to well-founded, high-quality testing. This blog gave you four reasons to use taxonomies. Do you have any questions about their use? Then contact us, our (testing) expert consultants will be happy to tell you more.