How students’ awareness of thinking improves grades

This article is part three of the John Hattie series of articles.

While there are many objectives a teacher sets out to achieve with students at the beginning of the school year, a key goal is to equip them with a range of thinking skills.

Essentially, assessment is a means of testing the skills a student has developed over time, and the extent to which they can apply those skills independently.

Methodologies such as Blooms’ Taxonomy also give teachers guidance on the kinds of thinking skills students could be using when completing particular activities.

Many teachers will know of the work of John Hattie, globally renowned professor of education, and the current Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne.

In this series on Hattie’s research, we are looking at the assessment strategies he outlines as having the highest impact on student achievement.

His large-scale research conducted over fifteen years shows that developing a students’ ability to conduct cognitive task analysis is one of the proven methods for raising achievement.

But what is cognitive task analysis? Most likely you are already incorporating this into lessons, but we’ll be delving into the concept and making some suggestions for developing your students’ thinking in this area.


Cognitive task analysis explained

As students prepare for exams, they will be required to perform tasks that require and range of thinking skills, including problem-solving, memory, attention or judgement.

The aim of cognitive task analysis is to equip students with an awareness of the thinking skills they are using, and for them to be able to apply this to solving problems or answering questions.

Put simply, cognitive task analysis means ensuring students understand the kinds of cognitive skills they will need to complete a task or to answer an exam question. 


Developing task analysis skills

Whether you are preparing students for an upcoming topic test, or they will soon be taking a trial exam, an awareness of the types of thinking skills they could use to solve problems will serve them well.

With this in mind, this list of practical suggestions could be helpful for developing cognitive task analysis skills with students:


1. Scaffold with language

As with teaching any new concept, scaffolding needs to be in place to give students the tools necessary for understanding or performing a new skill. Some students will understand the concept right away, and others might need a little more support. 

One of the best ways to equip students with the skills they need for cognitive skills analysis is by giving them the language they need to complete it independently.

For example, if you want a student to identify that they are using problem-solving skills to answer a particular question, it might be helpful to share and develop the following sentence starters with them:


  • This question uses words like ‘find’ or solve’.
  • This means I will need to use problem solving skills to reach an answer.
  • For problem solving questions, I need to…
  • Problem solving involves…


2. Encourage discussion

Once you have given students the language they need to engage in cognitive task analysis, plan an activity for them to practise using the language and to categorise different question types.

Encouraging students to discuss problems is an effective way for them to explore new concepts or to consolidate learning.


3. Model during teaching

Showing the students how to use particular words or phrases in their discussions is helpful, but it can also be helpful to model the cognitive task analysis process when doing whole class explanations. Use the language you have embedded into lessons and demonstrate how to use it well.


4. Use images to jog memory

Learning through visuals is a tried and tested way of improving recall in preparation for exams.

When preparing resources, flip charts or classroom display items relating to cognitive task analysis, you could attach an image to each of the different thinking skills. This will enable students to quickly recall the thinking process relating to that image, and understand what they need to do to answer a problem of that type during an exam.

For more information, you can download the full chart explaining Hattie’s findings here


Neap has been active in the education community for over 30 years, with an established reputation for producing high quality materials for VCE and HSC. We are driven to deliver assessment materials that teachers can trust for their accuracy, level of complexity and adherence to the curriculum.

This article is authored by Sophia Wichtowska, an experienced writer and English teacher with a Masters in Education from the University of Cambridge. She enjoys writing about learning and passing on knowledge to others.