The Cognitive Walkthrough is a usability inspection method that evaluates a system's relative ease of use in situations where preparatory instruction, coaching, or training on the system is unlikely to occur.
Cognitive Walkthrough is Day 13 of 100 Days of UX, an exploratory effort to survey the 100 methods of design outlined in Martin and Hannington's Universal Methods of Design. For 100 consecutive days, I learn one new method a day and write about it.
Cognitive walkthroughs are useful for inspecting systems where a person must be able to actively engage with an interface and know what to do next without relying on any preexisting knowledge of the system. Cognitive walkthroughs are a test to find out if the common assumptions and mental models that people have about computing systems were taken into consideration during the design.
Cognitive walkthroughs are particularly well-suited for evaluating "walk up and use" systems such as ATMs, automated parking garage ticketing machines, etc.
The trademark of the cognitive walkthrough method are the four yes/no learning theory based questions asked of the system being inspected. There are several formulations of those questions, but each formulation eventually asks the same thing.
From Martin and Hannington:
Or from a super helpful video by Chris Kimmer on cognitive walkthroughs I found on YouTube:
If all the answers are "yes," congratulations! If there are noes, take note of those and work to fix them.