Learning outcomes should be the key driver of what students are assessed on and should complement the way that learning is approached. This matching between paper design and learning outcomes is commonly referred to as ‘constructive alignment’ (Biggs & Tang, 2011). Constructive alignment applies at any scale and not only to assessment. For example, it might describe the links between graduate attributes and paper activities, paper learning outcomes and assessment, or lecture materials and paper learning outcomes.

Assessment design should begin with learning outcomes. In other words, what should students be able to do? Learning outcomes communicate to students what they need to know and help lecturers through the process of constructive alignment. If in doubt, revisit your learning outcomes! Not all learning outcomes need to be summatively assessed, but assessments should only cover learning outcomes that are a part of the paper.

How to write learning outcomes

Writing learning outcomes is a skill. Learning outcomes typically begin with the phrase: “by the end of this activity (e.g. paper, topic, programme, assessment), students will be able to”. Learning outcomes start with a verb and might include some constraints or bounds on the conditions under which achievement of that outcome should be expressed. For example, “by the end of this topic, students will be able to design an effective assessment given paper learning outcomes”. A good gut check for a learning outcome is: how might I measure/assess this? If the task seems impossible, it might not be an effective learning outcome.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a helpful framework for writing learning outcomes (Bloom, 1956). It delineates different “levels” of learning that are expected of students, from lower level recall of facts and information through to higher level synthesis and creation of new material. It is important to consider the balance of different types (e.g. knowledge, skills, attitudes) and levels of learning outcomes.

The following table lists some examples of learning outcome verbs that correspond to different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Level Description Learning Outcome Verbs*
Knowledge Recall facts Define, identify, list
Comprehension Demonstrate understanding Explain, describe, summarise
Application Apply to new situations Apply, illustrate, demonstrate
Analysis Break down and make sense of Analyse, compare, differentiate
Synthesis Combine ideas and concepts Compose, summarise, argue
Evaluation Think critically Assess, interpret, predict


*Note: find more of these by searching for “Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs”.

For more examples of learning outcomes, see Appendix G of How Learning Works (Ambrose et al., 2023)There are also many online examples for different disciplines and types of assessment.