Metacognition assisting revision

28 February 2018

Author: Julie Watson, Memory and Metacognition lead, Huntington Research School

As a psychologist, I am fascinated by ‘the overconfidence effect’, which refers to the bias where our subjective confidence in our judgements is greater than the objective accuracy of those judgements. This is an extremely common phenomena and one I experienced myself recently when I attended a Speed Awareness Course. They asked us who thought they were a good driver. Everyone put their hand up (including me!) despite having to attend the course as we had broken the law and driven at what is considered to be a dangerous speed.

This overconfidence effect has been shown in a range of studies using students (Pajares & Kranzler, 1995; Chen, 2003; Bol, Hacker, O’Shea, & Allen, 2005) and it is important for us to consider as the exam season fast approaches and the spotlight is once again being shone on revision.

Almost a year ago my colleague Alex Quigley wrote a great blog about how we need to prompt our students to organise and better manage their revision preparation

I was really keen on the idea of ‘exam wrappers’ and so since then I have tried out various different ways of using these and developing the metacognitive processes of my A level psychology students. Some worked better than others and I am now using the following protocol every time we complete an end of topic test:

  1. Prior to completing the test I ask students to rate how confident they feel about each of the subsections of the topic (ensuring that the test includes questions on all of the subsections).
  2. Once the test is marked I return it to them and ask them to reflect on whether they would still agree with their ‘confidence ratings’ or whether their performance on the test would now change this. This has value metacognitively as it enables students to purposefully direct their future learning.
  3. Initially I left it at this but I now ask them to explain ‘why’ if they have changed their ratings (which many of them do). I find this to be the most useful part of the process as it means all students have to reflect upon their judgements, as well as ensuring their confidence rating is based upon evidence.
  4. I was then concerned that students had completed a nice reflective sheet but that only a few of them (or none of them!) would actually do anything with this new knowledge. So I now ask them to put a star next to the two subsections that they will focus on over the next week before they have another test on the topic (based upon the expectation that they will spend one hour on each of their chosen subsections).
  5. Then we repeat the process…


Students who are highly metacognitive are able to more accurately determine ‘when they know something’ and when ‘knowledge and understanding is secure’. This enables them to determine how long they should spend on different topics when revising.

However, some students lack this ability and this means that they often select topics to revise which they already have stored in long term memory, predominately because these are usually the ones they like!

Alternatively, they may be over confident and incorrectly believe that they already know a topic which will prevent them from spending sufficient time on revising this topic.

Therefore this process helps students to develop their ‘judgement of knowing,’ an essential skill required for effective revision to take place, as simply being familiar with a topic can convince students they know it well (Finn & Metcalfe, 2014)

Hopefully, by adapting and using this approach we can all help our students to save time (and stress) by targeting their revision sensibly over the coming weeks and months.

Julie Watson @juliewatsonpsy

Memory and Metacognition Lead, Huntington Research School

Posted on 28 February 2018
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