A Brain Hack (of sorts) for Exams and Tests - College Info Geek

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Earlier this year, I made a video

about whether or not you should change

your answers during exams if you're unsure on them.

Now the prevailing wisdom has always been

to go with your gut

but the research we looked at

presented this as what they call

the First-Instinct Fallacy

and showed that more often than not

changing an answer you're unsure of

is more often the better choice.

Now the amazing thing about science

is that at any point in time

new data can come and make you wrong

and that is exactly what has happened to me

because now my initial recommendation for you

is wrong.

And due to that wonderful quality of science,

I now have a new and improved method

to suggest to you

and since I used an ambiguous title for this video,

I'm just going to lay it straight out for you

so I don't waste your time.

Next time you're taking an exam

whether it's your final exams

if you're watching this video near its publish date

or any exam in the future,

right after you answer each question,

you should rate your confidence in that answer

using a scale of one to five.

One being super unconfident I'm not really sure

and five being I definitely know the answer

to this question.

Now this technique takes advantage of something

called metacognition,

which is essentially thinking about thinking.

It's our ability to analyze our own beliefs

and decisions.

To make an analogy,

it illustrates how the brain is a lens

that sees its own flaws.

One of the core aspects of metacognition

is our ability to judge our confidence in our knowledge.

We can feel uncertain

that is we know when we do not know.

I first started learning about metacognition

a couple of months ago

when I talked to a guy named Justin Couchman

who's a professor of psychology

at Albright College in Pennsylvania.

And Couchman's first forays

into the study of metacognition

took the form of research on Rhesus monkeys.

No, not Reese's monkeys but yeah you know.

In a study he helped conduct called

and bear with me because this is a mouthful,

the highs and lows of theoretical interpretation

in animal-metacognition research.

He and two other psychology professors

set up to see if animals have the same

metacognitive capabilities that we have.

In their study, the monkeys were given

questions of varying levels of difficulty

and they had to either give an answer

or indicate that they didn't know the answer.

And Couchman and the other professors

were surprised to find out that the monkeys

were able to accurately judge their confidence

and indicate when they didn't know.

They were able to look inside their brains

and analyze their own thinking much like we do.

With the results of this study in hand,

Couchman started thinking about

the metacognitive abilities of his own students

who were often surprised that the grades on their exams

were often much higher or lower

than they initially predicted.

And it turns out there is a reason for this.

The problem with metacognition

is that it isn't perfect.

I use the analogy of a lens that sees its own flaws

for a reason.

Our brains are subject to all kinds of bugs,

cognitive biases, heuristics,

flawed modes of thinking

like to quote the AI researcher,

Eliezer Yudkowsky.

"The brain is a flawed lens through which to see reality.

"This is true of both mouse brains and human brains

"but a human brain is a flawed lens

"that can understand its own flaws-

"its systematic errors, its biases-

"and apply second-order corrections to them."

One of the biggest flaws is that

our memories are notoriously unreliable

and as a result our metacognitive capabilities

decay as we try to use them

to analyze thoughts that we had

further and further in the past.

So to learn more about this,

Couchman decided to conduct another study.

This time on humans rather than monkeys

and they set up two different tests.

In the first tests,

they had students take a real life multiple choice exam

but after each question,

they asked them to rate their confidence

on a binary scale.

Either writing G or K for Guess or Known.

Additionally the asked the participants

to indicate whether or not

they had revised each answer

after giving an initial answer.

And for this first test,

they found that revisions were more

often than not, correct

especially for the answers that were marked

Guess rather than Known.

After this first test,

they decided to conduct a second test

and the only difference here

was that instead of using a binary rating system,

Guess or Known,

they decided to have the students

rate their confidence on each question

using a 1-5 Scale.

One being super unconfident

and five being almost certain.

And the results here were interesting

because in this case

the initial answers were more often correct

than the revisions.

Now these results would seem contradictory

and that would be the case

if there were only one rule of thumb,

either stick with your initial answer

go with your gut

or as the previous research showed,

revisions are better.

But using confidence tracking,

there's no longer just one rule of thumb.

When you assign a confidence score

to each question in the moment

that you answer it,

you're utilizing your brain's metacognitive abilities

at their most accurate point

giving your brain a more sensitive tool

with which to make a decision.

So to wrap up here,

there were two key findings to that study.

Number one,

beliefs formed about the exams

after the exams were over

were very very poor predictors of actual performance

and this shouldn't come as a surprise.

I remember myself going into many exams

as a student super confident

that I was going to do awesome

and then i got a bunch of questions wrong

or on the other hand,

being really worried that I wasn't ready

and then just absolutely acing it

and I'm sure you've had these experiences as well

but more importantly,

metacognitive tracking in the moment

was a much more accurate predictor of success

and gave the students a more accurate tool

for judging whether or not

they should make a revision to an answer.

So there you have it.

When you go into your next final exam

or any exam in the future,

try assigning a confidence score

next to each answer

as you answer that question.

Doing so will help you to more intelligently

make revisions and hopefully get better grades.

Now if you're curious and you'd like to know more

about the research that went into this video,

I did an hour long podcast with Justin Couchman

where we went more in depth in his study

and you can click the card right now

wherever it is or down below to listen to it

and I've also linked all the relevant studies

in the blog post for this video.

That's all I've got for you this week

so if you're watching this

and you've got a final coming up pretty soon,

best of luck on it

and hopefully this technique will help you out

and in next week's video,

we'll be talking about an often requested topic,

how to make a study schedule for finals.

So look forward to that

and as always, thanks for watching.

Hey guys, thanks so much for watching this video.

If you enjoyed it,

giving it a like can definitely help this channel out

and also if you want to get

more study tips every single week,

you can hit that big red subscribe button right there.

In addition, I also wrote a book

on how to get better grades and I made three

so if you'd like a copy of it

click the picture right there.

If you want to read the summary

and get links to all those studies,

hit the orange button to go to the blog post

and if you missed last week's video,

we talked about 15 writing apps

that can help you become a better writer.

Lastly, if you want to connect

I'm @TomFrankly on Instagram and Twitter

or you can leave a comment down below.