What is metacognition you may say (unless you have been exposed to the growing literature and popularity of this word in recent years)? Metacognition, at its most basic can be described as knowing how you think.
At a slightly more complex level it can be broken down into three domains: metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive regulation and metacognitive experiences. I often find myself teaching this concept to my SAT and ACT students and will encourage my LSAT, GMAT and GRE students to really engage their metacognition. What does it mean to use your metacognition and why is test preparation a conduit to enhanced metacognition? Hopefully after elucidating the three basic components of this phenomenon and how each component relates to different aspects of the test preparation process, my claim will make more sense.
As I go through each definition, I will explain through examples how each metacognition component is utilized and mined when one prepares for any of the college or graduate-school entrance examinations (aka, standardized tests such as the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT).
Metacognitive Knowledge (the test day experience)
Also known as metacognitive awareness, metacognitive knowledge is what one knows about how one learns. So, if a tutoring student comes to me and says I always freeze on the day of the real test, but when I’m relaxed I score much higher, I will turn around and ask her why she thinks that is. She will probably say I get nervous, anxious or something similar to these two states. I will then point out that her awareness is useful data about how she thinks and what might obstruct that thinking. Rather than avoid those situations that obstruct our thinking, we might then be motivated to find a way to lessen those obstructions or train our own minds to function well despite such obstructions as anxiety. It is a challenge to figure out how we can either learn to think during such anxiety or what other things we can do daily to quell our anxiety. This is where the regulatory aspect of metacognition makes its debut if a person chooses to use it or develop it.
Metacognitive Regulation (time management and pacing)
Metacognitive regulation as described by John Flavell, who originally coined the term metacognition, is the ability for one to regulate his or her cognition through a set of processes and/or strategies that enhance his or her learning. For example, I use a timer when I am doing my own work or with tutoring students to get them or myself to focus. Particularly in the age of constant and numerous distractions, developing this ability is key to not only being able to prepare optimally for a standardized exam but to make vast improvements. Furthermore, the ability to metacognitively regulate is important in all facets of life including getting school and work projects done.
Metacognitive Experiences (self-awareness)
Metacognitive experiences describe our current states of cognition or thinking. Being able to reflect on different experiences of thinking and how any particular type of thinking can enhance or not enhance one’s ability to perform a task at hand can be just as important if not more than the possession of prior knowledge and a natural ability to take tests.