Improving Metacognition to drive better ATAR outcomes


Metacognition: A student’s awareness of what they DO and DON’T know.


With ATAR exams looming on the horizon and the intensive revision period soon to be upon us, our focus quickly shifts to helping students prepare most effectively and efficiently.


Students typically turn to revision strategies that seem popular and effective on the surface (such as Summarising/Highlighting/Underlining notes, Mnemonics, Re-reading or Re-writing) but have a low impact on their eventual test scores, due to their low metacognitive value.


Analysis of metacognitive strategies, those elements that allow a teacher to answer the question- ‘how do your students (or you) know that they actually know what they think they know?’ shows that once a student can clearly identify their deficiencies in their recall ability, they develop a more structured, targeted, study regime.


If a student is unable to pinpoint the areas of concern, however, they do not know where to focus their study efforts for maximum impact, so without metacognitive feedback, study can become aimless, potentially superficial, repetitive, or provide false confidence derived from non-evidence-based feedback and poor ‘Judgement of Learning’.


From a teacher’s perspective, testing a student in a formal classroom assessment crystalises for us a snapshot, or moment-in-time view, of a student’s ability to recall and apply their learning. However, there are flaws;

  1. end of topic testing typically ends the process of assessment of a body of knowledge, leaving little room for reflection or metacognition and
  2. ability to recall diminishes considerably over time (beyond a week). With 75% of an ATAR score derived from testing administered long beyond the delivery of the content, concept recall is generally poor leading into exams, which promotes ‘cramming’.


Implementing strong metacognitive strategies post-testing and pre-examination can bring huge advantages for students.


So, what are the best strategies for students to improve their metacognition?

  1. Retrieval practice (retrieval of unknown answers- e.g., practice tests). Multiple studies have proven retrieval practice to be the most effective way to increase exam and test scores, with particular value for;
    • improving students’ complex thinking
    • improving students’ ability to apply learned concepts to new contexts
    • reducing anxiety around exams and testing procedures (one study showed 72% of students felt less anxious when retrieval practice was regularly applied1)

  2. Spaced study (distributing short study sessions over long periods). Spaced study has been shown to improve the students’ accuracy when assessing their metacognition levels, leading to;
    • better learning (especially embedding knowledge)
    • long term memory recall improvement. In a well-known study, spacing the same study volume over several days instead of into a single session, saw mean test scores improve from 50% to 75%.
    • Lower anxiety and stress, as the ‘known unknowns’ are defined and reduced.


In the same way, metacognition helps students make better study decisions, improving visibility over students’ retrieval practice activity and outcomes also result in heightened awareness for teachers.


When you can clearly see the areas your students are struggling with and identify these issues BEFORE a summative assessment, you can help improve metacognition in students, be more specific in your feedback, and tailor your teaching to improve those outcomes.


Check out ReviseOnline’s new teacher portal to see how we’ve made this possible


For more great articles to help your students prepare for their ATAR, visit