Metacognition has been defined as “having knowledge (cognition) and having understanding, control over, and appropriate use of that knowledge” (Tei and Stewart; as cited by Collins, 1994, p. 2). Wellman (as cited by Berk, 1997) refers to metacognitive knowledge as being made up of four interrelated component : knowledge of self, task, strategies and interaction. The conscious control over and use of these knowledge components emerges through the application of metacognitive skills (or strategies), which include all those methods learners employ to think, study and solve problems (Slavin, 1997).
Unlike some other areas of child development, there is no one theorist credited as heralding and mastering thought on metacognitive development. Rather there have been numerous researchers who have made considerable contributions towards a better understanding of how students’ study strategies change as they become older. In their study of students from fifth grade through tertiary education, Fleming et al. (1993) found a developmental trend for increasing differentiation of lower-level (rote memory) strategies and high-level (being-based and self-regulatory) strategies during the high school and university years. Flavell (as cited by Warton, 1998) attributes much of this differentiation to greater metacognitive knowledge of self and task, in that as students mature they are far more accurate in estimating their memory capacity (or changing their strategies and predictions for the next time of they over-estimated). They are also likely to learn the ‘gist’ of the material (the general idea) as opposed to verbatim memory input, which is common to children up to eight years of age.
Rafoth, Leal and Defabo (1993) also argue that as students develop they are less likely to use rehearsal as a study routine and more likely to acquire “sophisticated learning strategies” (p.26) such as semantic organisation of material, self-testing and elaboration – “Creating visual or verbal connections that add meaning to material” (Rafoth et al, 1993, p.25). With specific attention to self-testing, Loraner (1994) argues that more mature students are more efficient ‘monitors’ of their learning, and therefore more active, purposeful and flexible in their strategy use.
Hagan, Reed, Wicker, Schallert and Wiehe (1992), have similarly noted the developmental nature of metacognition and study strategies. However, they are cautious not to underrate the considerable importance of effective influences on study activities and their efficacy, highlighting that:
The psychological process of being immersed , or involved in what one is studying has an important relationship to the study outcome goals and affect that either promote or hinder involvement may influence a student’s orientation toward studying (for example, the decision to comprehend vs. memorise).” (p. 2).
Key insights have been made into the relationship between development and study activities, with very distinct changes noted as students mature (Murray-Harvey & Keeves, 1994). While much research has also focused on particular age or schooling level groups with regards to metacognitive, and in particular, study skills strategies – for example, Herman’s (1996) study of undergraduate multiple choice test strategies, and William’s (1997) research into the study strategies of rural at-risk high school students.
The aim of the present study was to explore the relationship between development and study strategies, particularly changes that occur between the senior school years and studies at university. Specifically this study focused on how students prepare for a test, monitor and review their progress and how dependent this monitoring and awareness of one’s cognition is affected by age or subject area.
In line with the reported research it is hypothesized that a university student will make greater use of meaning based and self regulatory study skills than senior high school students, who have less knowledge about the own learning, across all subject areas.
Two males participated in the study. One attends a Catholic High School in a large country town whilst the other attended a Catholic High School in a small Capital city. They are both from similar socio-economic backgrounds. Michael (pseudonym) is 18 years of age and studying for his HSC and achieving above average results. John (pseudonym) is 22 years of age and studying for a Masters degree in Chiropractic Science. He achieves well above average results in his university studies. Although the results John has achieved in his academic career are better it is Michael who comes from a more scholarly background.
Due to the striking similarities between the two subjects in gender, schooling institutions and socio-economic status the two main variables were development and personality differences.
The only materials used in the study were a tape recorder for recording the subjects’ responses to the researcher’s questions (see Appendix 1 and 2), and a pen and paper for recording non-verbal responses.
A case study was used to gain qualitative research into the relationship between developmental and study variables in two individuals.
After consideration of past research on development and metacognition, subjects were chosen to examine the relevant points of equivalence and contrast between a late high school student’s and a university student’s study strategies. Both the subjects were well known to the researcher and as such they were spoken with casually regarding their participation in the study. They were informed about the purpose and nature of the study and questions they would b required to answer. They both consented to participate and signed the consent forms (Appendix 3 and 4). A suitable time for interviewing the subjects was arranged.
When the interview started the tape recorder was turned on and the subjects were then questioned regarding their academic careers. A number of questions were posed to investigate their performance on academic tests or exams and their preparation for them.
Table 1: Comparison between a university student’s and a school student’s responses on study skills.
History: Open Book Test (‘Cheat Sheet’) vs Essays
Orthopaedics: True / False vs Essays or Short Answer
History: Read textbook. Summarize notes
Maths: Read. Learn formulas. Do practice questions.
Orthopaedics: True / False – Read notes. Doesn’t try to memorize
Short Answer – Rewrite. Summarize.
Elaborate to make meaning. Read
Chiropractic Skills: Read. Practice.
Does subject use different strategies for different types of exams?
Have subject’s study strategies changed over time?
Does subject recognize the role of environment and motivation on study?
Does subject have the ability to self-regulate?
Reasonable. Does practice questions for maths but not for interpretative subjects.
Excellent – varies strategies according to progress, time constraints, exam type and subject.
How does subject deal with problems in exams?
Leave it and come back if there is time.
Leaves it and comes back. Knows own recognition patterns (eg if I know it I’ll recognize it). Uses other questions as a springboard for thinking about the Question.
Table 1 highlights the significant differences and similarities between the two subjects’ metacognitive abilities. John’s responses to questions were far more detailed than were Michael’s. Michael required far more prompting and gave less precise answers. John on the other hand is well aware of his study strategies and was able and willing to discuss them.
Michael responded that he applied the same study skills to groups of subjects regardless of the examination type whereas John recognized that he studied differently for different exam formats. He said that “psychologically” or perhaps unconsciously he recognizes the difference in the way he studied for a True / False test as opposed to a test which required him to write his own responses. Differing again was the way in which John prepared for a practical examination.
Each of the subjects replied that for theoretical and to some extent John’s practical, exams , they read over and summarized their notes and / or their textbooks. Each of them found this process of rewriting and rereading their notes to be the most beneficial to their study. The concept for John’s practical exam was the same, to read the notes and then practise them regularly.
Both subjects recognized the role of motivation and environment on their study. Each was aware that they found it difficult to study when there were distracting factors around, such as Michael’s example of food, or John’s example of noise.
John is far more able to change the way he studies as exams come closer and recognizes the need to do so. He has a good ability to self-regulate in that he is able to reasonably confidently predict his results in examinations.
The university student in the study made far more use of meaning based study strategies, than did the high school student, in that he used elaboration techniques and sought for understanding. This result conformed to previous findings.
Both Michael and John, in preparing for a test, wrote their own summaries of notes and textbooks. The physical act of writing, Newell and Winograd (1995) argue is a “powerful means for rethinking, revising and reformulating what one knows”. Neither of the subjects though used memory cues such as pneumonics to process information more efficiently as was to be expected from other studies (Warton, 1998).
Both students had similar responses when faced with an exam question they could not answer. Neither dwelled on it, instead moved on. John, in fact, stated that he thought that if he didn’t know the answer within 30 seconds then it was unlikely that he was going to remember it. He did though say that he would look for ideas in other questions, or when thinking about other questions, which may give him some ideas for the previous question.
Both John and Michael were aware of using past papers in preparing for an exam as a means for self-testing. Both students also had a good degree of knowledge about what affects their studies. Both recognized the role of motivation on the amount and quality of study performed. The subjects also indicated knowledge of factors which can detract from their study such as noise, tiredness and the availability of food. John indicated that at his level of study, without motivation, the likelihood of failure was increased as it was difficult to do many hours of study each day without some kind of motivation. Hagan (1992) also contended that positive factors such as motivation can influence a students orientation to studying.
The point where the two subjects differed most markedly was in terms of the ability to self-regulate. John appeared to have a far better understanding of his learning and memory, how they worked and how he applied them than did Michael. This difference could have much to do with the differing educative environments the subjects have has access to.
The university environment is far different to the school environment in so much as it requires students to take more control of their own learning and are required to do much of their learning and studying outside of scheduled class times through research and reading. As Williams (1996) states “students who direct their own learning processes tend to be self-reliant and effective learners”.
The limitation of this study is that it includes two subjects of same gender and of similar socio-economic and schooling background. Whilst this allows one to remove certain variables from the hypothesis it is limiting for study’s ability to be generalized. And whilst it may appear that there is a large leap between and eighteen and a twenty-two year old in terms of metacognitive ability, this finding will not hold for the entire wider community.
The differences between a high school student, undergraduate, postgraduate and a non-tertiary educated subject would have been interesting. This is in so much as it may have given a better indication of the degree to which tertiary learning in responsible for increased metacognitive awareness. Certainly, though, it does appear from this study and previous findings, that university students have a higher metacognitive awareness and are far more able to self-regulate.
Transcript of Researcher’s Questions and Michael’s Responses
Researcher (R): For my university studies in Education., I’m doing some research on study skills. There are no right or wrong answers and the data will remain completely confidential. You can stop the interview at any time if you choose. I’m also going to record the interview so that I can write up your exact words, okay?
R:Do you want to sign this consent form for me?
R: Okay, now you’re eighteen and in Year 12 is that right?
R:The first thing I want you to do is think about an exam that you have had recently. pause Can you think of one.
M:I dunno, I only did it this week so I haven’t got my marks back yet.
R:Really, what makes you think you aced it?
M:Well we got given the questions before the exam and we were allowed to take a 1 page “cheat sheet” in.
R:Sounds like a cool exam to me! So, ah, what did you do to prepare for it?
M:Well I looked at each of the questions and went through the text book I found the answers and wrote them all down.
R:Right, so you didnt have to study for it as such?
M:Well sort of. That’s how I study for exams anyway.. well except for taking the cheat sheet in!
R:So do you want to tell me how you normally study for exams.. you know.. when you don’t have the questions beforehand.
M:Well I just go through the textbook and my notes and write them out.
R:Is there anything else you do when studying for an exam to help you try and remember stuff?
M:Nah, not really. pause Oh yeah!
M:The night before an exam I always go to bed before 8.30pm!
R:Right! Okay, how do you think this helps?
M:Well, you know .. if you are tired you can’t think straight and you know you won’t remember any of the stuff anyway.
R:Yeh. So if you are studying you just read through your notes and make more notes right?
M:Well.. doing that just seems to bash it through my think head!
R:Do you learn all your material the same way for history?
R:Are you able to use any other method or do you find that this works the best?
M:Nah, this seems to works the best.
R:Fair enough! If you were studying for a maths exam and a history exam would you do it differently?
R:Have you had a maths test lately?
M:Yeh I had one before the holidays.
R:Did you expect the result you got?
M:Well you know.. I don’t have to write as much stuff out because um you just have to know the formulas as stuff.
M:Oh right! Well I just do as many examples of them as I can.
R:You do practice papers and stuff?
R:Before the test how do you know whether you know the stuff?
M;Well if I have done heaps of examples and got them right I suppose. You just sorta know if you get something or not, don’t you?
R:Normally! Um, right before you go into an exam what do you do?
M:Well I read over my summaries and try and drill as much stuff as I can in then when I get into the exam I write down as much stuff as I can. You know.. just on a scrap piece of paper ‘case I forget it.
R:If you get stuck on a maths problem in the exam what do you do?
M:Well.. I try it and if I can’t do it.. I leave it and come back to it later if I’ve got time.
R:Do you think that the way you study has changed.. um.. as you got older?
R:How long do you think you have been preparing for exams like this ..sorry.. this way?
R:That’s cool. Do you think there are any factors which affect the way that you study or how well you study?
M:Oh yeah! If there’s food around there’s no hope for me! No seriously I get distracted really easily so there’s gotta be no food and yeh no noise. I can’t have music on or anything like that!
M:Well I just don’t seem to be able to concentrate.
R:I’m the same! Do you think you study better if it is a subject that you like?
M:For sure! I study heaps better if I like the subject. pause You also dont mind doing it as much, do you?
M:I don’t really know whether you study better for subjects you like but you probably do more study for them. pause You also seem to like subjects that you are better at don’t you? You know, most of the time, you don’t like stuff you are not good at so yeh the subjects you like you seemta learn quicker.
R:That’s great! Thanks for your help!
Transcript of Researcher’s Questions and John’s Responses
R:For my studies in education I am doing some research into study skills. There are no right or wrong answers and all the data will remain completely confidential. You can stop the interview at any time. Okay?
R:You don’t mind if I tape record the interview?
R:Can you think about an exam you have had recently for me?
R:How did you actually study for it?
J:Well .. I went through all my lectures to start with and in the first few weeks when I wasn’t so busy I came home and rewrote my notes. I use blue and red pen to highlight the important facts. So I rewrote all my notes and then when it came closer to the date I started writing them onto ‘cue cards ‘ so I had all the salient points on the cue cards. So I basically keep putting them onto cue cards and once I have finished all my exam notes and yeh I’ve got it all on ‘cue cards’ and I keep reading them. And every time I read them I remember some more and more and so I take those cue cards out and don’t read them again and eventually I’m left with 10 or so ‘cue cards’. I go through them and decide if they are likely to be in the exam questions and I have quite mastered it and I keep reading through them until I’m ready to sit for the exam.
R:Okay, so how do you actually go about actually remembering the information?
J:Like I said if I’ve got time I like to rewrite my notes but that takes a lot of time. Closer to the date I stop that and just keep reading and putting them onto ‘cue cards’ .. um.. and basically keep reading and .. reading my lecture notes .. I go through the text book and some past paper.. and I prepare my lecture notes and I try and expand on them so I can understand what I am going to have to write about.
R:So you don’t actually have any tricks for remembering the stuff? You don’t make patterns out of the words or anything like that?
J:With Orthopaedics it’s basically a lot of facts and it’s just remembering and rewriting the facts and sometimes I might use a pneumonic but it’s not that easy to use a pneumonic because basically, you know “A patient presents with.” And you’ve got to know what the facts are.
R:Okay can you think of another exam you have had recently?
R:Okay. So did you have to prepare for it differently?
J:So it was a practical exam. It wasn’t a theory exam. Apart from reading lecture notes it was basically practising with friends.
R:How to you manage to remember practical information as opposed to the theoretical information?
J:I think I read somewhere that it takes two weeks to form a ingrain so basically we get together twice a week and draw a name out of a hat and try and remember the name and the name gives you a clue and you’ve got to remember all your contacts are and you’ve just got to keep practising. Yeh basically you see that name of the adjustment and your brain’s got to think okay and just before you do the adjustment take a deep breath and think of all the things you have gone through with your friends. And thinking what are the important points and hopefully you have done enough practice that it becomes automated.
R:Um.. Do you think motivation affects your ability to study?
J:Definitely, I think doing 10 or so Masters subjects if you are not motivated I think it becomes tough to sit there and rewrite your lecture notes and to try to remember so many facts. Motivation plays a big part.
R:Do you think there is anything else that affects your study?
J:Definitely the environment you are studying in and how you are feeling, lack of sleep, I suppose relationships all play a part
R:Right. In an exam if you get stuck on a questions what do you do?
J:Um, it all depends on if it is a theory or a practical. If it is say a theory question I’ll think about it but I’ll only think about it for say 30 secs ’cause if I know it I’ll know t straight away. So if I’m in a theory I’ll just leave it and if I’m doing another question and I think of something that answers the question I have left I’ll come back to it but basically I’ll leave it and try to get marks elsewhere and come back to the question. In a practical exam I suppose try and reread the question take a deep breath and you should know it and hopefully it will come back to you and if it doesnt ask the examiner if I can come back to it and hopefully it come back to me.
R:Do you think there is anything that happens in an exam that reminds you of anything that you have forgotten? You know do you think there is anything .. “Oh.. I was studying that on a Wednesday after..” Do you try and make a process of your study so that you can try and remember it?
J:Not so much days but I read my notes a few times and I think I can almost pinpoint what lecture it was at, who gave the lecture and what his emphasis was. Sometime I can remember what ‘cue card’ it was on and I try to visualize what I was remembering. Sometimes it is difficult when you’ve got fact after fact but at least if you can’t remember the whole of it you can get some marks.
R:Right okay. Are you generally pleased with the results you get?
J:Practical more so than theory. I’m one of the only ones who hasn’t failed a practical station so I’m pretty happy with that. Theory sometimes I do really well other times not so well.
R:If in one theory subject you have different sorts of exams say multiple choice versus essays. Do you prepare differently?
J:Yeh. We have some True / False exams and you know.. with them you think that you don’t actually have to remember it .. psychologically.. you just think that you will have to recognize it .. so you don’t tend to study it as well. Whereas with other sorts of tests you know you have to know the facts so you actually remember them.
R:Well that’s it! Thanks for your help!
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