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Metacognition and Self-Regulation

Posted on May 25, 2017 at 9:15 PM

According to Stanford U’s PhD researcher Patricia Chen, incorporating the study “hacks” of metacognition and self-regulation can easily bring a B-student into the A grades 1

Imagine what these tools can do for test prep!

Metacognition refers to students’ thinking about HOW they are going to study, WHAT resources, WHAT tools, and HOW to prioritize and organize their habits. Self-regulation refers to students having strategies to be able to review their own work, and helps determine some of the key ways to improve their learning.

These tools -- metacognition and self-regulation – should be taught to your students when they participate in a structured test prep program with an experienced tutor or teacher. For example, students will learn that the verbal sections of the SAT and ACT are all about ELIMINATION, not just trying to choose the right answer. In other words, it is critical that a student can justify why each answer not chosen is a wrong answer.

Let’s take an example in SAT Writing or ACT English. We have the following question —

Every summer, one of the country’s largest craft festivals [1] bring together artists from every state….



B) Bringing

C) Brought

D) Brings

Students who are “untrained” will just listen when they read each choice to see which answer they believe “sounds” better. That’s an ok strategy untrained, but if you want to work in metacognition, a good tutor will train the student to skim the answer choices after identifying the part of speech (verb) that is underlined. Noting that the answers have one plural and one singular verb is a tip-off that this question is testing Subject-Verb Agreement. Correctly identifying WHAT the question is testing is the first half of thinking about how to study/practice. The next step is to know the rules on properly identifying the subject and knowing that the pronoun “one” (subject) is singular. Since “one” is singular, it needs to be paired with the verb “brings” – D. Further, the student would have eliminated B because an “-ing” verb is not an action verb. And although “brought” (C ) agrees with the subject “one”, a trained student would review the verbs in the rest of the paragraph to determine that the rest of the paragraph is in the present tense, and not past tense. This would rule out answer choice C.

Now another one –

I planned on gathering five of my friends for a 30-mile bike ride through the winding hills; however, I was having trouble with my brakes. Fortunately, [1] one of my friends, Walt, agreed to come over and help me the next day.



B) one of my friends,Walt

C) one of my friends Walt,

D) one of my friends Walt

A trained student here will skim the answer choices and realize that she is dealing with a comma issue surrounding names and non-essential/essential clauses. Again, it is critical that a student has been trained to identify WHAT the question is testing! A trained student will know that the name will either have NO commas (essential clause) or a pair of commas (non-essential clause). That automatically eliminates B and C. Since the description “one of my friends” is not specific enough to refer to only one person (Walt), then Walt must be essential and should not have any commas surrounding his name. This is answer D. 

Beyond the teaching of HOW to think about EACH individual question on these standardized tests, an experienced tutor or teacher should help a student prioritize WHAT practice is most beneficial and HOW to organize study habits. Using the test-maker’s practice tests is key, but supplementing with the best materials for content drills and content review is also important.

Remember that even parents can help their children learn metacognition when they offer observations and ask their children simple questions such as “what you did last month to study for the test didn’t work too well. What could you do differently or more effectively to prep for this test?”

How can you best help your children in their test prep journey?

Do the tutors and teachers you hire teach metacognition and self-regulation?


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