A Brain Hack (of sorts) for Exams and Tests – College Info Geek
- Articles, Blog

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

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.

About James Carlton

Read All Posts By James Carlton

100 thoughts on “A Brain Hack (of sorts) for Exams and Tests – College Info Geek

  1. I have a fear of forgeting i.e. suppose i learn a topic and i will proceed further in the chapter…but still i will return on the same topic in a fear forgeting everything…waste much of my time..PLz help me out 🙂

  2. I used to second guess myself on exams, however this year I followed my gut on choices and ended up doing a bit better.


  4. amazing video, as I have tough exam next month and I hope I had time to review, and if so I will rely on my confidence rating for every question that will be marked for review.

  5. I just discovered your channel and my finals ended last Friday hahaha. But this video came out near the end of my finals week, so either way I couldn't use it last week. But I will DEFINITELY by using this in the future. Whenever I look over my answers I always lose track of the ones I'm confident on. This method should save some time now 🙂

  6. Awesome..We have always heard "go with your first instinct"; but I usually leave my second choice answer because there is a reason why I doubted the first answer

  7. Is it just me who noticed Thomas's wrinkly forehead. lol I mean lines of wisdom.
    Rest your forehead next time bro.
    As always thanks for this awesome tip!

  8. I'm a professional and I love watching these videos because they still apply no matter if you're in or out of college. I would love to see a video on simply how to get started faster. I have a hard time just getting myself in the mood to start working (about 30 minutes to about 2 hours work), even with it all planned out . As Mark Twain says "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."

  9. Very interesting and creative, I very liked this book!
    Have in mind I subscribed for you, now I'm checkinbg out the books which you gave, in your videos and also the interview was also very interesting!

  10. can someone please confirm; if you are unsure about the answer (1-2) and you pick the answer according to your gut, should you change your initial answer or not?

  11. It's funny… I have been doing this my whole life… Except I use stars and question marks. The stars mean "I have no idea if this is right, I should come back and check this." The question marks mean "I am iffy about this answer but it is pretty likely to be correct. IF and only if time allows, I should go back and check this answer." Then if it is left blank I am almost completely sure this is the answer to the exam. It also helps if you go into the test not stressed and not confident. Because if you are confident you will most likely get too cocky and if you are stressed you will be to timid. I know this is hard but the best thing is to remove all emotions from the test. BE A VULCAN!

  12. Hey! Primarly, I would like to thank you for doing what you do, some of your tips have truly helped me improve my studies. Your videos are both informative, interesting and of very high standard.

    Secondly, I have a problem though, I have huge troubles getting to school and I know a lot of other people feel the same dealing with a lot of pressure and issues sleeping. Do you perhaps have any tips for how to get to school?

  13. Holaaaaaaaa!!! , gracias por subir tan buenos vídeos , no se mucho ingles pero los coloco los subtitulos , estoy en mi etapa de ser mas productivo y tu me ayudas mucho! muchos éxitos !!! saludos desde PERÚ!

  14. This is annoying cause i watched the last video in which you said to change the answer if you think it's wrong, and i literally got every answer i changed wrong 🙁

  15. Jar jar is a Sith Lord he was supposed to be revealed in episode 2 attack of the clones but it was turned down by focus groups

  16. Hi Thomas, firstly I really appreciate and support your channel. I believe what you're doing here is amazing. I wish your channel existed when I was in college… anyways, I am preparing to study for the CPA exam, which just thinking about it makes me cringe. I understand every tip and theme you've covered applies to any number of scenarios and situations. But it would be awesome and so helpful if you could make a video specifically targeted at studying for licenses such as CPA, Lawyer, MD… etc. 😁pretty please

  17. Hi! I just wanted to say thank you so much for your videos, your tips do actually work. I read your book before taking my first finals this year.
    Before i start i have to say that I have always been a good student but i was not the most efficient one. I would spend a lot of time studying and even thought i felt like i was not ready to take my exams. ..
    But this quarter was a hole different story, i am a freshman at college (I study law, in Spain) and thanks to you i studied way less hours.
    I followed most of your tips, i was more organized, i had time to hang out with friends, play sports, sleep 8h , and study.
    I found my self more relaxed and ready to take my exams, i felt like i did my best and i had to believe in my brain hahaha…
    i didn´t skipped a single class and let me tell you guys…. That is the key to succeed … if someone tells you another thing… they are lying to you!!!
    As result… i had A in ALL my subjects… ALL OF THEM!!! i´m super exited.. i felt like it was so easy and i enjoy learning new things now that i know how to do it.

  18. @thomas_frank Dont you think that the student will be more critical of his answer if he reviews it later rather than "in the moment" ? Hence resulting in him giving his answer a more realistic score ??

  19. +Thomas Frank i really appreciate the video and thank to you i was able to successfully graduate. Thank you.

  20. OMG! okay so, im in nursing school atm and i had a lot of trouble with the tests. i started off my first semester with just taking the 50 question multiple choice tests as i always did.. read the question then answer in my head and pick the answer closest to my answer i stated in my head… then during my second semester, just for fun i guess, i decided to write ALL OVER my test. for each question i would underline key words and even define them or write down what came to my head as soon as i saw a key word. then i would answer in my head and then check to see if that answer was one of the choices.. before moving on i wrote down a "G" for a guess, circle to come back to it, or a checkmark for answers where i thought i was without a doubt right. i found that doing that helped me to prioritize and finish faster so i can check my work! i thought it was very awesome to see the way i naturally decided to take a test was being studied! and all this time i thought i was a weirdo lol
    also i have no shame in changing my answers on a test… i will change answers if i see fit.. i want to be ok with making mistakes and recognizing that i am indeed wrong. it doesnt come easy but i try!

  21. Is it ironic that I'm watching videos on improving my study skills while procrastinating at the same time? Probably. Am I going to stop watching and study for my finals instead? No…

  22. I know I should be focusing on what you're saying but OMG THAT'S PORTGAS D ACE'S HAT IN THE BACKGROUND!!!!!!

  23. About the "changing your answer results with right answer" thing, i should have stayed put because i got it wrong in my history test. Yikes!

  24. I always circle the question number if I am unsure with the answer, or has yet to answer. When I go through the test again, I can see what I have to look at again. Is that similar to this technique?

  25. 4:25 I've had that happen before. Recently, I had a math test. I knew the concepts and equations like the back of my hand, and I had gotten every question correct on the two tests for the two units (then there is a proctored test – I am homeschooled and I do my work online – that tests me on both units). On the proctored test, I figured that a little bit of practicing before the test won't hurt. Well, I was wrong. Half-way through the test, I get super exhausted and I made many careless mistakes, and I was too tired to check my answers. I eneded up getting a B+. Which isn't bad, but I was expecting 100%, and I totally would've gotten that if only I would have slept in a lot more and didn't practice before the test. Let this be a lesson to you, aha…

  26. i have a 200 multiple choice questions exam…i don t really have time for confidence scores :)) can you do a video on increasing speed on multiple quest? i always have unread questions at the end of my exams or i just go through them like crazy

  27. At the end of November I have got exam In IELTS, but I think there is no time for this technic, but anyway it's super pragmatic. ✌🏻 P.S. The actual man must be like that handsome 😀

  28. Sir kindly make a video for how to approach multiple answer exam…we have 19 medical subjects…and 10 months duration…

  29. “Influencers” take note. This man admitted he was wrong due to new information that came out. It will be ok to admit you are wrong if you are trying to be a leader.

  30. Thank you Frank , your videos are very helpful, you are a very informative and great channel,
    i did use this method in my previous exam, but what I don't understand is how it will help me? I mean i did not understand why do we grade? is it because we review the topics after the exam or is it so we revise the questions we gave a low score to? if anyone can help me understand that would be great! i watched the video three times and I am still unsure??
    thanks in advance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *