Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Definition and Examples

High-order thinking skills are a series of important competencies individuals can utilize in order to improve learning progress and critical thinking. Those who employ high-order thinking skills understand how to analyze and evaluate complex information, categorize, manipulate and connect facts, troubleshoot for solutions, understand concepts, connections and big picture thinking, problem solve, ideate and develop insightful reasoning.

What Are Higher-Order Thinking Skills?

Higher-order thinking skills (or HOTS) are essentially critical thinking skills. Cultivating these types of skills represents the ultimate goal of the learning process because they demonstrate the student has reached a substantial degree of self-sufficiency as a thinker.

Higher-order thinking skills go beyond lower-order thinking skills like concept formation, basic reading comprehension, or rote memorization to include the abilities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. As an example, lower-order thinking skills might help you with memorizing the correct answers for a multiple-choice test, but higher-order thinking skills are necessary to write an essay that makes a cogent argument.

The educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom deserves attribution for his initial insights into higher-order thinking skills. Teacher education programs often use Bloom’s taxonomy as portrayed in his Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Bloom’s taxonomy is a pyramidal diagram representing how higher-level thinking skills build on lower-level ones to achieve learning objectives.

Why are higher-order thinking skills important?

Higher-order thinking skills can help you solve problems efficiently by anticipating connections between different ideas. Some cognitive researchers organize the ways they understand thought processes using taxonomies, another word for categories of ideas. One of these ways of organizing thinking, Blooms Taxonomy, identifies skills such as making connections as more challenging but potentially more rewarding than skills like memorization by repetition. This is why they are called “higher-order” thinking skills.

Using higher-order thinking skills may help you address complex problems with creative solutions. Consider making connections between pieces of information when you are trying to solve a complicated or nuanced problem.

Why are higher-order thinking skills important for education?

Teachers, school leaders and education researchers often discuss the role of higher-order thinking skills in learning and development. Some educators believe that students must master lower-level thinking skills, such as memorization, before they can connect those ideas using higher-order thinking skills.

Others think that higher-order thinking can happen at any stage of learning and growth. However, many professional educators agree that higher-order thinking skills are important to consider when developing lesson plans, providing instruction and assessing student growth.

7 types of higher-order thinking skills

If you want to learn more about higher-order thinking skills, here is a list of seven types to help you get you started:

1. Analysis

After you learn to take in and categorize information, you can start to learn how to assess and analyze it. This might mean engaging in a Socratic discussion with other classmates or knowing the right questions to ask about what people are teaching you. Analysis means truly understanding what’s being said as an important first step to forming your own personal conclusion about the information.

2. Metacognition

Metacognition involves an awareness of how you think. When students engage in metacognition, they closely examine the processes they are using in order to learn and retain new information. This involves understanding their own strengths (such as note-taking) and weaknesses (such as procrastination) as students.

For example, you may have a student who excels at memorizing grammar rules but doesn’t always understand how to correctly apply the rules. In this instance, the student may wish to supplement their learning process to include a wide variety of examples so that they understand what they are memorizing.

3. Comprehension

Comprehension refers to the process of internalizing material and understanding the importance of content. Comprehension is a necessary first step for many other higher-order thinking skills because it ensures that you are making connections between ideas you have mastered. For instance, a student in law school needs to understand not only which laws exist for certain situations but how those laws can be applied to new situations.

4. Application

Application as a higher-order thinking skill happens when you apply a piece of information you have attained to a similar issue or project. For example, if a student learns the woodworking techniques necessary to craft a bench, they might also be able to apply those same woodworking techniques to craft a similarly-designed coffee table.

5. Evaluation

Evaluation and critical thinking often overlap because they both have to do with assessing new information based on ideas or concepts you already know. Evaluation allows you to place a relative value on a piece of information, which can help you make decisions based on reasoning and evidence. Students in law school and in the medical field often need to use evaluation to apply the knowledge they are learning in new ways.

6. Synthesis

Eventually, learners should be able to tie together disparate content areas, disciplines, and information sources as effective mental organizers. Synthesizing information means knowing how things interconnect and why. When you synthesize what you learn, you form connections among various subjects that help you better understand the world and prepare yourself to learn still more about it.

7. Inference

Inference is a higher-order thinking skill in which you use available information to make a reasonable estimate of information that is unknown. You might use inference to determine the context of an email message from a colleague or anticipate an expected response from a student during finals week. You can use inference skills to understand and anticipate classroom dynamics and reevaluate as more information becomes available.

How to use higher-order thinking skills in class plans

If you are planning a class, consider using higher-order thinking skills to guide your planning process and build coherence into your lessons. The following steps might help you plan a class using higher-order thinking skills:

1. Think about your learners

Consider what you know about your students. You may be teaching a preschool swim class, an after-school science program or even training for adults in the workplace. Your students can help inform your application of higher-order thinking skills in planning your class.

Think about what information they probably already know and the information they have yet to learn. Be mindful of their age and experience and try to anticipate the degree to which your students are ready to make connections between ideas.

If you already know your students, you may have the information you need about them in mind as you begin the planning process. If you are meeting your students for the first time, you can use a survey or introductory activity to find out more about their background and experiences.

2. Identify objectives

Higher-order thinking is usually easier to encourage in class plans based on clearly identified learning objectives. Decide exactly what you want your students to understand and think about ways they can make connections between the information they already know and the information you will provide them. Consider using specific types of higher-order thinking in your class objectives.

3. Choose content and activities

When you plan material and activities to reach the learning objectives you set for your class, consider ways that your students can make connections and think deeply about the content you provide.

For example, if you are leading a class on sales, you may wish to invite the class to participate in a role-play activity that allows them to apply the information you have presented. If you are leading a class on communication in professional settings, you might brainstorm different kinds of business communications and help your students look for patterns to develop their own set of best practices.

4. Assess and reflect

You can maximize the benefit of higher-order thinking by incorporating time for assessment and reflection when you plan your class. This might be a quick evaluation in which you ask your students to explain the connections between ideas discussed in your class, or it might be a metacognitive activity in which students reflect on their own learning and thought processes. Accommodating assessment and reflection in your current class plan may also provide a basis for your next class plan.


What are the examples of higher-order thinking skills?

HOTS include synthesizing, analyzing, reasoning, comprehending, application, and evaluation.

What is the meaning of higher-order thinking skills?

High-order thinking skills, also called high-order thinking or HOT, refer to skills that go beyond memorizing information or regurgitating stories—skills at the bottom of the Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchy—and emphasize the development of analytical skills.

What are examples of higher-order thinking skills questions?

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
  • What do you think could have happened next?
  • Do you know of another instance where…?
  • What would you change in the story?
  • From the information given, develop a set of instructions about …?
  • What do you see as possible outcomes? …
  • Why did ….. …
  • What was the turning point?

What is meant by hots in education?

Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) is a new concept of education reform based on the Taxonomies Bloom. The concept concentrate on student understanding in learning process based on their own methods. Through the HOTS questions are able to train students to think creatively, critic and innovative.

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