Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three

For the new ACCA Qualification, all Study Guides refer to three intellectual levels. These represent the three bands of intellectual or cognitive ability required to study a particular subject or topic area.
It is recommended best practice in accounting education to give students as much guidance as possible on how much study is required in order to achieve syllabus aims and objectives. Students therefore need to be aware of the depth at which they will be assessed in any given area. This article explains how the system of intellectual levels should be used in relation to the ACCA syllabus, and looks in detail at the
Study Guides.

In the 1950s, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom identified six main cognitive domains relating to study:
> knowledge
> comprehension
> application
> analysis
> synthesis
> evaluation.
According to Bloom, the level of cognitive difficulty increases from the recall of knowledge to the evaluation of complex ideas and situations resulting in appropriate decisions or recommendations.
Best practice suggests that professional accounting syllabuses should use three (rather than six) broad bands of cognitive difficulty to help students and their teachers gauge how much preparation is needed, and the level of difficulty they may encounter, in meeting various educational capabilities.
ACCA had adopted three ascending levels of cognitive difficulty, where 1 represents knowledge and comprehension, 2 is application and analysis, and 3 is synthesis and evaluation. These cognitive bands consolidate Bloom’s six-level taxonomy.

Level 1

Knowledge and comprehension require demonstration of the following capabilities:
> retention and recall of knowledge
> understanding of major accounting and business ideas, techniques, and theories
> use of knowledge and techniques in new but familiar situations
> recognition of fundamental cause and effect in accounting.
Level 2
Application and analysis require demonstration
of the following capabilities:
> analysis of unfamiliar situations to prepare reports and solve problems using relevant concepts and theories
> recognition of subtle or hidden information patterns and trends within financial and other information, and the ability to interpret these
> the ability to infer from given information and draw conclusions.
Level 3
Synthesis and evaluation require demonstration of the following capabilities:
> creation of new ideas from, or new insights into, existing knowledge
> generalisation, comparison, and discrimination using complex and unstructured information
> assessment and evaluation of complex information
> use of reasoned argument to infer and make judgements
> presentation and justification of valid recommendations.

Do the modules of the syllabus correspond to the intellectual levels?
The new ACCA Qualification syllabus is divided into two main levels, each containing two modules: the Fundamentals level contains the Knowledge and Skills modules, and the Professional level contains the Essentials and Options modules. While both modules in the Professional level are broadly assessed at the same cognitive level, the Skills module papers are set at a higher  intellectual level than the Knowledge module papers. This is also reflected in the time allowed for the respective exams within these modules.
While there are three broad levels within the syllabus, these do not always match the cognitive levels described above. Therefore, it is not the case that every capability in the Knowledge module is assessed at Level 1, and that all Professional level capabilities are assessed at Level 3.
How does learning develop throughout the qualification?
As students progress through the qualification, they both broaden and deepen their capabilities at all stages.
The Knowledge module is predominantly about the breadth and comprehension of knowledge, although there may also be some application or simple analysis. Students would therefore expect to see most capabilities set at Level 1, although in some subject areas there may be a few Level 2 requirements, particularly if the area is not developed further in subsequent papers.
In the Skills module, students should expect to see mostly Level 2 capabilities being assessed, but also to find a number of Level 1 capabilities which will be built on. In some exceptional cases, some Level 3 capabilities will be identified, particularly in areas which are not being taken further at the Professional level.
This shows that even within the higher level modules there is still a need to acquire and comprehend new knowledge before more difficult capabilities relating to this new knowledge can be assessed.
At the Professional level, students should still expect to find a few Level 1 capabilities, as new knowledge is introduced, and before this knowledge can be applied, analysed, synthesised, and evaluated.
Figure 1 shows, in broad terms, the proportion of capabilities assessed at each  intellectual level within each discrete module or modules.

To Be Continued ……..