The Student Connection

Confidence, Tracking & Boosting Test Scores

Kathleen Gillespie of The Student Connection reports students who take the time to double-check answers and change their response on college entrance exams may be doing what’s needed to boost their scores. Her report and tips for those taking the ACT and SAT exams:

New research on student effectiveness from the field of meta cognition studies ways to develop “Conscious Confidence.”1 Studies completed in the last 12 months offer fresh insight to guide students who ask, “Should I change my answer once I marked it on the exam?”2

The new research demonstrates quantitatively that students who apply this specific meta cognition technique boost their test scores.  While the boost is not the difference between a test score in the 80th percentile and the 90th percentile – the data shows the boost does make the difference between a test score in the  87th percentile and the 90th percentile.

In other words, the following technique is relevant to students consistently score just below 30 on the ACT Exam and wish gain just the few points needed to make the difference needed.


Researchers taught students how to monitor and self-assess their use of a simple 1 to 5 confidence scale with 1 being “very low confidence that the answer is correct” and 5 being “very high confidence that the answer is correct.” The key to applying the technique was having the student rank each answer before the student moved on to the next question. During the research, students’ test-taking time was measured with and without the technique. Applying the confidence ranking took so little time that using it made no difference in the student’s ability to complete the exam within the allotted time.


The good news is that students who applied confidence ranking of 1 to 5 were able to successfully do two tasks during the exam.

  • First, they were able to use remaining test time to properly identify answers with a low confidence ranking.
  • Second, they were able to consistently change incorrect answers to correct answers.


This research affirmed that short term memory is quite volatile, and is especially the case when students are placed in anxiety provoking conditions such as timed exams. For example, when students were asked after the exam during the research, “How did you do?” students who believed they did well on an exam were surprised to learn they did not do well. The reverse was also consistently true.  The best indicators of the effectiveness  of the technique was looking at the exam score, checking to see that the student ranked each question, checking to see if student used the technique to change answers (identified by erased choices), and verifying that the changed answer was correct.

— Kathleen Gillespie, The Student Connection

1 Meta Cognition. “Thinking about one’s thinking.” [Accessed 10.26.2015]

2 Sources. According to the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, “metacognitive practices increase students’ abilities to transfer or adapt their learning to new contexts and tasks” (as cited by the Center for Teaching – Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, p. 12; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al., 1984; Schoenfeld, 1983, 1985, 1991); and, National Public Radio Broadcast 10.28.2015.

“Developing Conscious Confidence”
Image from chapters/chapter-1 (Accessed 10.26.2015)

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