New research shows that students score better on tough exams when they don’t overestimate their abilities. The best way to avoid that is by using metacognition exercises.

In general, students who perform poorly on exams tend to be overconfident in their abilities, which ends up undermining their actual performance.

For example, when looking back on exams, most students who found they did very poorly went into the test thinking they were well prepared, says a study in the Journal of Chemical Education.

Metacognitive training improved exam scores by 10% on average.Click To Tweet

Meta-Incompetence and the Cognitive Bias

According to what psychologists refer to as the Dunning-Kruger effect, people that are incompetent tend to overestimate their skills, whereas those who are skilled tend to underestimate their potential.

Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who coined this cognitive bias, argue that incompetence not only results in poor performance but it also makes an individual incognizant of that fact.

We all know that confidence is key in decision making and following through during certain tasks, but cockiness and hubris often come into play when people use confidence as a substitute for self-awareness and preparation.

Being ignorant about one’s own ignorance contrasts with metacognition that, in its essence, refers to one’s ability to monitor one’s own thought processes. When used appropriately, metacognition can help one acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses honestly and address the areas of inadequacy.

Your Metacognitive Ability is key to Your Success

Metacognition training could potentially help people from all walks of life to overcome this cognitive disability and perform better.

Chemistry professor Charles Atwood and doctoral student Brock Casselman, both from the University of Utah, conducted this experiment in order to address lower-than-average success rates in one of their classes.

General Chemistry, the course in question, is one of the toughest entry-level courses on Utah’s campus in terms of overall pass/fail rates.

Atwood and Casselman implemented metacognitive training in a general chemistry course as an online homework system, and students were tasked with regular quizzes to assess their abilities.

Researchers found that students overestimated their performance (scores) by an average of 11%, while those that compose what’s called the “bottom quartile” overestimate their scores by 22%.

While students’ overestimation of their own ability undermined their performance, the group of students that went through metacognitive training raised their scores on the ACS (American Chemical Society) final exam by a 4% average.

Additionally,” said co-authors of the paper published in the Journal of Chemical Education, metacognitive training targeted the bottom quartile of the course by improving their ACS final exam average performance by approximately 10% when compared to the control section”.

Could This Study Benefit AI?

If you’ve kept up with our AI coverage, you know that most AI are “supervised” systems (read here) that lack the sort of self-awareness that we consider as one of the central tenets of our humanity.

Of course, AI programs also lack an ego. This means that while metacognition could potentially benefit a self-aware AI, there aren’t any AI platforms currently suffering from cockiness.

That is still a distinctly human problem.

But, if you look at the most sophisticated deep learning neural networks to date, you’ll notice that many of them do have the ability to look back at past conclusions and use them to inform current solutions. That, in its own way, is a sort of machine metacognition.

Aside from exams, scores and student performance, the study’s findings could also be useful for future AI that have more of a concept of their own “thoughts” and overall performance. Perhaps, as exercises in metacognition have helped humans, the same thought process could also help AI reflect on thoughts in continuous self-improvement cycles.

For now, however, we’ll have to wait until AI grasp the concept of being overconfident in the first place.

Where do you use metacognitive exercises? Do they help you?

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