Have you ever been jealous of those students who seem to get great grades without much effort? Well, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: Those students are not necessarily smarter than you are.  They’ve simply figured out how to study more efficiently.

The key is that successful students have developed an acute awareness of how well they know certain concepts, and have honed their ability to focus on their weaknesses without wasting time belaboring concepts they already know.  Cognitive scientists call this process of self-assessment metacognition, or “reflecting upon our own thinking.”  Students who have developed strong metacognitive skills enjoy significant benefits over students who have not.

The good news is that it is possible to improve your metacognitive abilities no matter what your age, specialty, or intelligence.  For example, Moreno and Saldaña (2004) and Kerly and Bull (2008) show that both children and intellectually impaired adults are able to improve their metacognitive self-assessment skills with the help of intelligent software.   Considering that normally functioning adults tend to have greater metacognitive abilities than children (Metcalfe & Finn, 2008), it is reasonable to expect that the ability to improve self-assessment skills is even greater for adults.

Brainscape is an ideal study tool for students who want to improve their metacognitive accuracy.  Our easy-to-use software asks you to rate your knowledge on each flashcard and then conveniently reminds you of that confidence rating the next time you see the flashcard.  Over time, whether you are studying mobile flashcards that you have created or that you have obtained from our growing online market, this flashcard repetition cycle will hone the precision of your self-assessments while increasing your memory of the specific content at an unprecedented rate.

Perhaps the best part about your improvement in metacognition is that your new skills will benefit you long after your test-taking days are over.  You will become a better note-taker (“Should I write that down or will I remember it anyway?”), a better conversationalist (“Do I know enough about this topic to opine on it?”) , and in general a more efficient manager of your own knowledge.  As Black & William (1998) remind us, metacognitive reflection is among the most critical skills that any learner can develop.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London: King’s College.

Kerly, A., & Bull, S. (2008). Children’s interactions with inspectable and negotiated learner models. In Woolf, B., et al. (Eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science (pp. 132-141). New York: Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.

Metcalfe, J., & Finn, B (2008). Evidence that judgments of learning are causally related to study choice. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(1), 174-179.

Moreno, J., & Saldaña, D. (2004). Use of a computer-assisted program to improve metacognition in persons with severe intellectual disabilities.

Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26(4), 341-357.