5 Facts About Cognitive Verbs – and why they’re important

5 Facts About Cognitive Verbs and Why they’re Important

If you or your child is in year 11 or 12, no doubt you will have heard of cognitive verbs and how important they are in the new syllabus.

In order to respond to an assessment item, students need to have content knowledge. This is obviously subject specific and topic specific.

The cognitive verb tells students how they are required to respond.

So, what exactly is a cognitive verb and what role do they play?

1. Cognitive Verbs Indicate The Cognition or Style Of Thinking Required To Appropriately Address a Task.

The cognitive verb tells students the type of cognition or thinking that is needed and what style of response is required.

Consider the different approaches needed to analyse, illustrate, discuss and create.

If a student is asked to analyse a text and instead illustrates it or simply recounts it by telling the story, then they have not met the required cognitive skill.

As part of their study strategy, students need to revise the cognitive verbs and what thought processes each one requires. This metacognitive awareness is an easy way to improve their results.

2. The Different Skills Require Different Response Styles

A creative response looks and sounds very different from an analytical response. It serves a different purpose and, often, would be directed at a different audience.

By understanding the cognitive verb, students know what genre of response is required.

The cognitive verb ‘illustrate’ lends itself to a diagram – or at least an example from a text.

The verb ‘compare’ may lend itself to a table – if the subject allows it.

‘Create’ requires an original response that draws on the student’s own thoughts.

Students need to respond in a way that is appropriate for the cognition (way of thinking) that is required.

An effective study technique is to practise using the same content in a range of different cognitions. This will help students learn to select and structure content in a way that addresses the set question, regardless of the specified cognitive verb.

3. Cognitive Verbs Have Consistent Meanings Across Subjects, But May Have Subject Specific Elements To Them.

It is important that students consider how the cognitive verbs are used in their specific subjects.

For example, consider the cognitive verbs ‘illustrate’ or ‘describe’. The way you would illustrate in Art is very different from Economics. To ‘describe’ a watch in English is quite different from in Mathematics.

Practising the different cognitions as they apply in your specific subjects will help ensure that you respond in a way the marker requires.

Part of your study strategy should be to determine the similarities and differences in the ways cognitive verbs are used across the curriculum. Make sure that you know how each one applies in your specific subjects.

4. Cognitive Verbs Save Time.

The use of cognitive verbs in assessment tasks becomes a type of shorthand.

Rather than asking a student to ‘examine all the elements of a text and form an interpretation, presented as a justified argument’, the assessment task will simply ask them to ‘analyse.’

This reflects realistic life situations in which employees are asked to do something and the employer assumes they know how to do that.

Students need to understand all the elements that are inferred by the cognitive verb. They must also be aware of any synonyms that may be used. For example in English, they may be asked to ‘analyse’ or to ‘discuss’ a text. The response style would be the same.

5. Cognitive Verbs Matter

Learning cognitive verbs and how they apply to specific subjects is vitally important for students to succeed.

By not familiarising themselves with these verbs, students run the risk of responding in an incorrect manner. No matter how well they know the content, if they don’t meet the requirements of the task they will struggle to pass.

Learning the meaning of the cognitive verbs and how to shape a response to meet the specified cognition is a vital part of any study routine.

Knowing what is required by the cognitive verb is an easy study skill that will improve any student’s results.

For more help for students, watch our Youtube videos of study tips.

For a list of cognitive verbs and their meanings, visit the QCAA website.