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Higher-Order Thinking Skills with Examples

When students memorize and repeat back the information without having to think about it, it is called rote memory. That’s because it’s much like a robot; that does what it’s programmed to do, but doesn’t think for itself. On the other hand, higher-level thinking drives thinking to be more inclusive than restating the facts.

Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) is one of the important aspects of education in the 21st century. Thinking skills are fundamental in the educational process. An individual’s thoughts can affect the ability, speed, and effectiveness of learning. Therefore, thinking skills are associated with the learning process.

Higher-order thinking takes thinking to a whole new level and students use complex ways to think about what they are learning. Students who use higher-level thinking understand the facts, infer them and connect them to other concepts rather than just memorizing facts. 

Thinking skills can be classified into two major groups.

Low-order thinking skills (LOTS) are the first three aspects of Bloom’s taxonomy – Remembering, Understanding and Applying.

Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) are the last three aspects of Bloom’s taxonomy namely – Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

HOTS are valued because they are believed to prepare students better for the challenges both in advanced academic life and adult’s work life on a daily basis. 

Students with a high level of higher-order thinking skills tend to be more successful. As they can learn, improve their performance and reduce their weaknesses when they encounter unfamiliar problems, uncertainties, questions, or dilemmas.

What is Higher Order Thinking Skill (HOTS)?

Higher-order thinking skills also called high-order thinking or HOTS, are education reform concepts based on learning taxonomies (such as Bloom’s taxonomy).

It refers to skills that go beyond memorizing information – beyond the skills at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchy – and emphasizes the development of analytical, critical and creative thinking skills.

The idea is that some types of learning takes thinking to greater levels and requires more cognitive processing than others, but also has more generalized benefits.

In Bloom’s taxonomy, for example, skills involving analysis, evaluation and creation are thought to be of a higher order and involve the learning of complex judgemental skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. And, separates it from lower-order learning outcomes, such as those attained by rote memorization. 

The Relevance of Bloom’s Taxonomy

HOTS is based on various taxonomies of learning, particularly the one developed and created by Benjamin Bloom. Bloom’s taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.

The three lists cover the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains. The cognitive domain list is frequently used to structure curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities and has been the primary focus of most traditional education.

Bloom’s taxonomy was composed of six levels (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation) to promote higher-order thinking. The same was later revised as remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Bloom’s taxonomy takes students through a thought process of analyzing information or knowledge critically.  It begins with knowledge and slowly pushes students to seek more information based upon a series of levels of questions and keywords that brings out an action on the part of the student. It is necessary to education and meta-cognition.

Why are Higher Order Thinking Skills Important for Our Students?

Higher-order thinking skills are much more difficult to teach and learn than lower-order skills, but they are all the more important for that reason.

There are several reasons why students need to study and exercise HOTS in the classroom, aside from the fact that questions that make demands of students’ higher-order are weighted more heavily in exams.

Higher-order thinking:

  • Enables a more inclusive appreciation of art and literature, enriching the enjoyment and experience of life
  • Promotes critical thinking, problem-solving skills and creativity
  • Helps students understand the usefulness and purpose of learning and moreover be motivated to learn
  • Increases the likelihood of learning as students understand the value and intent of learning
  • Empowers students to gain knowledge and apply their learning to solve problems in real-life scenarios and beyond the classroom
  • Are highly valued and in demand by employers. It is also forecasted to be increasingly in demand in the near future
  • Involves transferable skills that are necessary for a wide variety of context

Before we move ahead, let’s touch on the basics of LOTS:

The first level is remembering. It is basically the ability to remember previously learned lessons by recalling facts, terms, and basic answers.

The second level is understanding, which is the understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, interpreting information that a student has learned.

The third level is applied. This level is a way for the students to solve problems by applying their knowledge and techniques. 

That leads us to demonstrate how higher-order thinking is applied in education. 

Let’s have a look at each of the three HOTS levels in turn:

1. Analysis → Analyze


Analyze, the fourth level of Bloom’s pyramid, lets students break information into bits and pieces by identifying the cause or effect and finding evidence to support their claims or examining a subject from different perspectives.

It helps us see how the “whole” is created from the “parts.” It’s easy to miss the big picture by getting stuck at a lower level of thinking and simply remembering individual facts without seeing how they are connected.

In order to use the thinking process of analyzing, students must be able to see connections and draw conclusions. It involves students utilising their judgment to begin analyzing their knowledge.

At this point, they begin understanding the underlying structure of knowledge and can distinguish between fact and opinion.

Analyzing involves examining and breaking information into parts, determining how the parts relate to one another, identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and finding evidence to support generalizations.

Its characteristics include analyzing elements, relationships and organization.

Here students find patterns in what they learn. Students move beyond simply remembering, understanding, and applying.

They begin to take a more active role in their own learning at this level.

Classroom questions that address this category include the following:

  • What is the function of  _____?
  • What conclusions can we draw from  _____?
  • What is the premise?
  • What inference can you make about _____?
  • How can you sort the parts _____?
  • What ideas validate _____?
  • How would you explain _____?
  • How does this element contribute to the whole?
  • What is the significance of  _____?
  • How would  _____ see this?

Following are the verbs applied to analyzing activities:
analyze, categorize, classify, differentiate, distinguish, identify, infer, point out, select, subdivide, examine, experiment and investigate.

Study Methods:

  • Generate a list of contributing factors.
  • Determine the importance of different elements or sections
  • Think about it from different perspectives.

2. Evaluation → Evaluate


Evaluation is the fifth level of Bloom’s taxonomy. This is where students make judgments about information, find the validity of an idea and the value of concepts based on a set of criteria and standards.

Its characteristics include judgments in terms of internal evidence and external criteria.

At this level, students are expected to mentally assemble all they have learned to make informed and sound evaluations. This requires checking and critiquing an argument or concept to form an opinion about its value.

Often there is not a clear or correct answer to such a question. Rather, it’s about making a judgment and supporting it with reasons and evidence.

Although Bloom’s Taxonomy placed “Evaluation” at the highest level, it was later revised to rank fifth to reflect the idea that creative thinking (creation) is more complex than critical thinking (evaluation).

Simply put, critical thinking is necessary for the creative process to occur because it involves accepting or rejecting ideas. For this reason, evaluation precedes creation in the revised model.

Constructions that address the evaluation level include the following:

  • What is your opinion about ________? What evidence and reasons support your opinion?
  • Which argument or approach is stronger? Why?
  • Do you agree with  _____?
  • How would you prove _____?
  • What criteria would you use to assess _____?
  • How would you rate _____?
  • What information would you use to prioritize  _____?
  • What data were used to evaluate _____?
  • How could you verify _____?

The following verbs apply to evaluation activities:

appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, check, compare, conclude, criticize, critique, judge, defend, justify, support, value and evaluate.

Study Methods:

  • Distinguish essential data from information and decide if you like, dislike, agree or disagree with a decision.
  • Identify core themes, form and support opinions, and identify inconsistencies, bias, or lack of coherence or accuracy in a text.
  • Use background information, prior knowledge, and other textual sources to assess the validity of the text.
  • Consider what you would do if asked to make a choice.
  • Determine which approach or argument is most effective.

3. Synthesis → Create


Creation is on the top and the most advanced level of Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid.

It requires students to infer relationships among sources and combine the information that they have together to create a new pattern or new solutions.

For example, a student might infer a relationship between what he/she has read in a newspaper or article and what he/she has observed. The high-level thinking of creation is evident when students put the parts or information they have reviewed together to create new meaning or a new structure through planning.

Under this level of higher-order thinking, students move beyond relying on previously learned information or analyzing information. Instead, create new products, ideas, and theories.

It involves linking new information with prior knowledge or with multiple texts to develop a new idea, establish a new way of thinking or create a new product of some type. It sees the act of “creating” as combining elements into a pattern that had not existed before.

To succeed at this level, students must be able to synthesize their thinking and make predictions based on knowledge.

Creation involves building a structure or pattern from diverse elements. It also refers to the act of putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole. Its characteristics include the production of a unique communication, a plan or a proposed set of operations and the derivation of a set of abstract relations.

Some questions in the educational setting that assess the process of creation includes the following:

  • Develop/Suggest a new way to  ___?
  • How might you adapt  ___?
  • Can you predict the outcome if  ___?
  • What alternative would you suggest for ___?
  • What changes would you make to revise___? 
  • What could you invent to solve___?
  • How can you create a model and use it to teach this information to others?
  • What experiment can you make to demonstrate or test  ___?
  • How can ___ be told in the form of a story or poem?
  • How would you generate a plan to ___? 

The following verbs signal the “Create” level of thinking:

choose, combine, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, hypothesize, invent, make, write, originate, organize, plan, produce and role play.

Study Methods:

  • Build a model and use it to teach the information to others.
  • Design an Experiment
  • Write a short story about the concept

How to Increase Higher-Order Thinking and Foster Complex Thinking?

High-order thinking skills are thought to be harder to teach and learn than mere facts. But you can easily foster higher-order and complex thinking in your students with these strategies. Note that the list presented is not exhaustive, but rather a starting point.


1. Help Determine What Higher-Order Thinking is 

Help students understand what higher-order thinking is. Demonstrate what it is and why they need it. Ensure that your students aren’t just memorizing, but rather attempting to understand the conceptual content of the subject matter. Help them recognize their own strengths and challenges. Encourage them to engage in elaboration and explanation of facts and ideas rather than rote repetition. 

2. Connect Concepts 

Lead students through the process of connecting one concept to another and put concepts into a hierarchy. Just by connecting the concepts, you teach them to connect what they already know with what they are learning. Ultimately, helping them gain more clarity and understanding. For example, let’s say that the concept is “Christmas,” a broader concept to which can be “Holidays,” and an even more inclusive concept could be “Celebrations.”

This level of thinking will help students learn to compare the new to the already known concepts, which will help them create a web of concepts that helps to gain in-depth understanding. 

For example, if they are about to read a chapter on the theory of relativity, they might think about what they already know or understand from the term. They will then be in a better position to absorb new information on the theory of relativity.

3. Encourage Questioning

Asking a question can be a scary step into the void, therefore, teachers must go out of their way to create conditions conducive to questioning.  So teachers must somehow ‘flip the script’ by creating a classroom environment where questioning becomes a strength and students feel free to ask questions. For example, a ‘10 by 10’ exercise, in which students are encouraged to come up with 10 great questions about a topic during a 10-minute span.

4. Teach Conceptual Mapping and Make Mind Movies 

A specific strategy for teaching higher-order concepts are conceptual mapping by drawing a diagram of the concept, its critical features and its relationship to other concepts. By drawing diagrams or mind maps, students can better connect concepts and frame their thoughts in an organized manner. Students should also be encouraged to picture the action like a ‘movie’ in their mind when complex and detailed concepts are being learned. This will help students develop a habit of making visual representations of what they are learning, students may also enjoy using computer-based software for this task.

5. Teach Problem-Solving Strategies 

Teach students a step-wise method of accomplishing a task and approach for solving problems. This way of higher-order thinking will truly help them solve problems faster and more easily. You can try teaching your students different methods of solving a problem and encourage them to consider alternative methods if any particular strategy proves unrewarding. To develop problem-solving strategies, you must stress both the correct method of accomplishing a task and the correct answer.

6. Inspire Creative Thinking 

When students think creatively, they invent, imagine, and design what they are thinking. It enables them to look at problems and situations from a fresh perspective. Most students benefit from ample opportunities to develop their creative tendencies and divergent thinking skills as it makes students curious, optimistic and imaginative. Using creative senses helps students process and interpret information better. Research shows that utilizing creative higher-order thinking skills indeed increases students’ understanding and encourages “outside of the box” thinking.

7. Teach Students to Elaborate Their Answers 

Higher-order thinking requires students to engage in elaboration and explanation of facts and ideas to understand a concept, not repeat it or memorize it. Encourage students to elaborate their answers by asking the right questions that make students explain their thoughts in more detail. Ask them to relate new information to prior experiences or knowledge, make use of analogies and talk about various future applications of what they are learning.

8. Teach QARs 

Question-Answer-Relationships, or QARs, teach students to label the type of question that is being asked and then use that information to assist them to formulate an answer. It improves students’ learning comprehension, shows them how to find information to answer the question (i.e., in the text, online, from their own experiences or prior knowledge, etc). This strategy is effective for higher-order thinking because students become more aware of the relationship between the new information and their prior knowledge, which helps them interpret which strategy to use when they seek an answer.


Higher-order thinking is a skill, and just like any other skill, it can be taught, learnt and improved upon through practice

But to ensure each one of our students finds the opportunity to acquire and hone higher-order thinking and critical thinking, you must encourage a spirit of inquiry in classrooms.

Establish a classroom environment that makes the spirit of inquiry a habit. The more your students are engaged in rigorous thinking and purposeful content that encourages inquiry and critical thinking, the more higher-order thinking they will develop.

As you continue to work through lesson planning, curriculum design and providing high-quality instruction, keep in mind these key points, strategies and examples of higher-order thinking.

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