4.1 Types of Thinking

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand that there are different types of thinking.
  2. Identify how each type of thinking contributes to learning.

Throughout this book, we make the case that college is really quite different from high school. Sure, the social life is different, and there are different pressures in college, perhaps a family to support or a job schedule to coordinate with studies. But the two most fundamental differences involve expectations—the expectation that you will be independent and take responsibility for your actions and the expectation that you will think for yourself.

Remember the heavy “thinking” you did in high school? Most of it was recalling facts or information you had previously committed to memory. Perhaps in some courses you were asked to support a statement or hypothesis using content from your textbook or class. Your thinking in high school was very structured and tied closely to reflecting what was taught in class.

In college, you are expected to think for yourself; to access and evaluate new approaches and ideas; to contribute to your knowledge base; and to develop or create new, fresh ideas. You will be required to develop and use a variety of thinking skills—higher-order thinking skills—which you seldom used in high school. In college, your instructors’ roles will be not only to supply a base of new information and ideas, as good instructors will challenge you to stretch your skills and knowledge base through critical and creative thinking. Much of their teaching involves the questions they ask, not the directions they give. Your success in college education—and in life beyond college—is directly linked to becoming a better and more complete thinker. Becoming a better and more complete thinker requires mastering some skills and consistent practice.

So what are the various types of thinking skills, and what kind things are we doing when we apply them? In the 1950s, Benjamin Bloom developed a classification of thinking skills that is still helpful today; it is known as Bloom’s taxonomy. He lists six types of thinking skills, ranked in order of complexity: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Figure 4.1 “Types of Thinking Skills” outlines each skill and what is involved in that type of thinking, as updated by Lorin Anderson and David Krothwohl.


Thinking Still What It Involves
1. Remembering and Recalling Retrieving or repeating information or ideas from memory. This is the first and most basic thinking skill you develop (starting as a toddler with learning numbers, letters, and colors).
2. Understanding Interpreting, constructing meaning, inferring, or explaining material from written, spoken, or graphic sources. Reading is the most common understanding skill; these skills are developed starting with early education.
3. Applying Using learned material or implementing material in new situations. This skill is commonly used starting in middle school (in some cases earlier).
4. Analyzing Breaking material or concepts into key elements and determining how the parts relate to one another or to an overall structure or purpose. Mental actions included in this skill are examining, contrasting or differentiating, separating, categorizing, experimenting, and deducing. You most likely started developing this skill in high school (particularly in science courses) and will continue to practice it in college.
5. Evaluating Assessing, making judgments, and drawing conclusions from ideas, information, or data. Critiquing the value and usefulness of material. This skill encompasses most of what is commonly referred to as critical thinking; this skill will be called on frequently during your college years and beyond. Critical thinking is the first focus of this chapter.
6. Creating Putting parts together or reorganizing them in a new way, form, or product. This process is the most difficult mental function. This skill will make you stand out in college and is in very high demand in the workforce. Creative thinking is the second focus of this chapter.

All of these thinking skills are important for college work (and life in the “real world,” too). You’ve likely had a great deal of experience with the lower-level thinking skills. The midlevel skills are skills you will get a lot of practice with in college, and you may be well on your way to mastering them already. The higher-level thinking skills are the most demanding, and you will need to invest focused effort to develop them.


Exercise: Thought Inventory

Think about Figure 4.1 “Types of Thinking Skills”. Are you using all six thinking skills? Reflect on your schoolwork in the past three weeks and identify specific examples where you used each of the thinking skills. Use the comment column to write notes about the skills that are second nature to you and those you would like to develop further.

Skill Set How You Used It in the Past Three Weeks Comments
Remembering and Recalling






Look at the lists of things you actually did in each case. Notice that there are certain verbs that apply to each skill set. When you see those verbs as a prompt in an assignment or an exam, you will know what kind of thinking the instructor expects from you. Table 4.1 “Thinking Verbs” lists some of the most common verbs associated with each thinking skill.

Table 4.1 Thinking Verbs

Skill Set Verbs
1. Remembering and Recalling Bookmark, count, describe, draw, enumerate, find, google, identify, label, list, match, name, quote, recall, recite, search, select, sequence, tell, write
2. Understanding Blog, conclude, describe, discuss, explain, generalize, identify, illustrate, interpret, paraphrase, predict, report, restate, review, summarize, tell, tweet
3. Applying Apply, articulate, change, chart, choose, collect, compute, control, demonstrate, determine, do, download, dramatize, imitate, implement, interview, install (as in software), participate, prepare, produce, provide, report, role-play, run (software), select, share, show, solve, transfer, use
4. Analyzing Analyze, break down, characterize, classify, compare, contrast, debate, deduce, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, infer, link, outline, relate, research, reverse-engineer, separate, subdivide, tag
5. Evaluating Appraise, argue, assess, beta test, choose, collaborate, compare, contrast, conclude, critique, criticize, decide, defend, “friend/de-friend,” evaluate, judge, justify, network, post, predict, prioritize, prove, rank, rate, review, select, support
6. Creating Adapt, animate, blog, combine, compose, construct, create, design, develop, devise, film, formulate, integrate, invent, make, model, modify, organize, perform, plan, podcast, produce, program, propose, rearrange, remix, revise, rewrite, structure

Throughout this book, we give tips that will help you develop your thinking skills. You have read about the learning cycle and the importance of applying your knowledge. You will learn tips for remembering information from your notes and classes. Preparing for class requires you to analyze what you know and what you need to learn. The sections on listening and reading will help you develop your understanding skills. Look for those tips and practice them.

In this chapter, we will focus on critical thinking (evaluating) and creative thinking. They deserve specific focus because they are likely to be the skills you have least practice with. These are the skills most helpful for success in college and in “real life.” Creative thinking will help you come up with possible solutions for problems and new ideas. Critical thinking will help you decide which of those ideas have most merit and deserve to be implemented.

Key Takeaways

  • We use different types of thinking skills to address different requirements, and these skills are classified in Bloom’s taxonomy.
  • You have been using many thinking skills since childhood.
  • Two very important thinking skills you will need to develop for success in college and in life are critical (or evaluative) thinking and creative thinking.

Checkpoint Exercises

  1. List three verbs that are associated with application skills.




  2. What is another name for “evaluation” thinking skills?


  3. What thinking skills are associated with each of the following?

    1. Compose and design: _______________________________________
    2. Tweet and describe: _________________________________________
    3. Break down and discriminate: __________________________________
    4. Rank and beta test: _________________________________________
    5. Enumerate and google: ______________________________________


Anderson, L. W., and David R. Krathwohl, eds., A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2001).

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