All students want a shortcut, a hack, a secret trick to make the difficult process of studying so much easier but it’s always too good to be true. Not this one though, this method has demonstrated to be one of the most effective education tools by researchers. This secret trick to better studying is called metacognition.
What is Metacognition?
Metacognition refers to the knowledge about one’s own cognitive processes. These are processes where an individual plans, monitors, predicts or assesses their own performance, knowledge and understanding. This may all sound confusing but it’s a lot simpler than you think. For example, it’s John regretting his decision to buy apples instead of oranges. He’s thinking “Was I focusing too much on the negative aspects of oranges when I was shopping?” In short, it’s thinking about thinking.
In regards to it’s application to education, it’s something as simple as reflecting on a bad test and thinking “Oh, I didn’t do as well on that test, it’s probably because I wasn’t paying attention during class.”
Metacognition in learning is being mindful and reflective on your learning process. It’s thinking about how, why and what you are studying, evaluating your learning strategies, problem-solving learning problems, setting study or academic goals and generating new ways to learn.
Evidence of Metacognition’s Effectiveness
There is ample evidence of the link between metacognition and better learning. The Educational Endowment Foundation stated metacognition along with constructive feedback as one of two of the most effective educational interventions it has tested. In a study conducted by Stanford University, a group of university students were offered a variety of prompts to help them think carefully about how they studied, and how they might study more effectively, while the control group was just given a reminder of an upcoming exam. It was found that students who reflected on how they wanted to perform and what they needed to do to perform better significantly outperformed the control group.
Additionally, within the experimental group those who were prompted to engage in metacognition twice also outperformed those who were prompted once. The students also reported feeling less stressed and more confident! All it took was filling out a 15 minute survey. The survey asked simple questions such as how they are using resources to study (e.g. lecture notes, peer discussions) and why that resource would be useful.
Effectively, a study plan was made without the students even realizing it. It is shown that making plans to achieve a goal will make the goal more likely to be achieved as well.
You might think that this is useless information, it’s so obvious, it’s probably something you do all time but that might not actually be the case. In fact, there is a plethora of evidence displaying that students do not fully utilize the resources around them. It is shown that students are not pro-active in strategically thinking about their studies. Most of them are just passive consumers of information and hence limit their own potential. As the researcher of the Standford University states “All too often, students just jump mindlessly into studying before they have even strategized what to use, without understanding why they are using each resource, and without planning out how they would use the resource to learn effectively.”
There is also the infamous Dunning Kruger Effect where it was found that some students significantly overestimated their abilities and lacked the awareness to understand they were unprepared. Taking the time out to engage in metacognition let’s students evaluate and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses properly. Metacognition helps students recognize the gap in them. Self reflection directs student’s effort and makes them utilize efforts more efficiently.
Metacognitive Studying Strategies:
One of the most effective techniques is simply asking yourself questions. This makes the studying process more active and dynamic.
Before a test, ask yourself:
- What is going to be on the test?
Think about what kind of questions will likely appear on the test . Attempt to put yourself in the position of the examiner and construct your own test. What do you think will be the focus? Write them down and try to answer them yourself. When you have the answers continue to act as your own examiner, critique your own work, think about what grade you can get and what you can to improve it.
- Which area am I the weakest in?
Once you’ve done a round of studying rather than wasting your time reading the whole textbook again, identify which are your weakest parts. Focus more time and resources on that. Still, don’t get tunnel-vision and neglect everything else. Overall remember your aim is not familiarity but understanding.
- How am I going to prepare?
It is by means no secret being more organized but many students don’t even stop and ask themselves this question. Think about how much time you need to allocate to study and at least in your mind (though preferably on paper) draft up a rough schedule. But metacognition is more than just planning, reflect and think about past methods that have been effective. Is there anything you can do differently? Ask yourself what resources do you have, do you need help? If so, who can help you? A classmates, arranging a study group and asking the lecturer themselves are all valid means you should keep in mind.
Questions after a test:
- What did I get wrong and why?
If available, thoroughly examine the exam papers. Did you misunderstand something? Do you know why? Do not be afraid to consult your lecturer on the correct answers. It will undoubtedly give you a deeper understanding on the topic.
- What could I do differently?
Ask yourself if you were fully utilizing your resources, did you allocate too much on a segment or too little on everything? Was the studying method you used effective? If it was, remember to utilize in future study sessions. If not, think about what other strategies you could use. Again, consult your lecturers and classmates for tips and advice.
The Power of Metacognition
In conclusion, metacognition in learning is just taking some time to reflect and be aware of your studying, it’s as simple as that. To better organize everything though, you can utilize concept mapping, journaling and annotations. Most of all, metacognition helps you be a responsible and independent student. As with most things in life, it’s worth taking a step back and thinking things through before jumping in.