Higher order thinking in chemistry curriculum and its assessment

Peter J. Fensham, Alberto Bellocchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Higher-order thinking has featured persistently in the reform agenda for science education. The intended curriculum in various countries sets out aspirational statements for the levels of higher-order thinking to be attained by students. This study reports the extent to which chemistry examinations from four Australian states align and facilitate the intended higher-order thinking skills stipulated in curriculum documents. Through content analysis, the curriculum goals were identified for each state and compared to the nature of question items in the corresponding examinations. Categories of higher-order thinking were adapted from the OECD's PISA Science test to analyze question items. There was considerable variation in the extent to which the examinations from the states supported the curriculum intent of developing and assessing higher-order thinking. Generally, examinations that used a marks-based system tended to emphasize lower-order thinking, with a greater distribution of marks allocated for lower-order thinking questions. Examinations associated with a criterion-referenced examination tended to award greater credit for higher-order thinking questions. The level of complexity of chemistry was another factor that limited the extent to which examination questions supported higher-order thinking. Implications from these findings are drawn for the authorities responsible for designing curriculum and assessment procedures and for teachers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-264
Number of pages15
JournalThinking Skills and Creativity
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Assessing higher-order thinking
  • Chemistry assessment
  • Chemistry curriculum
  • Higher-order thinking in chemistry
  • PISA questions

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