Opportunities for self-evaluation increase student calibration in an introductory biology course

Jennifer L. Osterhage, Ellen L. Usher, Trisha A. Douin, William M. Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Accurate self-evaluation is critical for learning. Calibration describes the relationship between learners’ perception of their performance and their actual performance on a task. Here, we describe two studies aimed at assessing and improving student calibration in a first-semester introductory biology course at a 4-year public institution. Study 1 investigated students’ (n = 310) calibration (the difference between estimated and actual exam performance) across one semester. Students were significantly miscalibrated for the first exam: their predicted scores were, on average, significantly higher than their actual scores. The lowest-performing students had the most inaccurate estimates. Calibration improved with each exam. By the final exam, students underestimated their scores. We initiated a second study in the following semester to examine whether explicitly teaching students about self-evaluation strategies would improve their calibration and performance. Instruction in the experimental section (n = 290) focused on students’ tendency to overestimate their abilities and provided retrieval-practice opportunities. Students in the experimental section showed better calibration and performance on the first exam compared with students in a control section taught by a different instructor during the same semester (n = 251). These findings suggest that simple instructional strategies can increase students’ metacognitive awareness and improve their performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberar16
JournalCBE Life Sciences Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the facilitators of the American Society for Microbiology’s Biology Scholars program, especially Marcy Kelly, for important insights and feedback. We also thank the students who participated in this study. This work was supported by an HHMI Sustaining Excellence-2014 grant (#52008116).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 J. L. Osterhage et al. CBE-Life Sciences Education.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)


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