Med students, especially first-year med students may feel overwhelmed by the amount of new material they’re learning. Stanford University researchers were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of metacognition—an educational intervention that asks students to reflect and plan out how they study—in an experiment controlled for previous academic performance, race, class, gender, and motivation for specific grades. College students were asked to think about how they normally prepare for exams and how they could prepare more effectively for an upcoming statistics exam. Those who were surveyed outperformed those who were only sent a general reminder to study for the test, by an average of one-third of a letter grade. Students who responded to the survey twice performed even better.

Originally developed for children, metacognition refers to a person’s ability to predict how well they will perform on various tasks. It also refers to how well they’re able to monitor their learning. Metacognition focuses on self-assessment and a deep awareness of how effective study techniques are on an individual level. It enables students to learn more by thinking about how they think and applying the strategies that work best for them across subjects and study environments. Going over previous exams with teachers or classmates, creating analogies to draw similarities between processes or concepts, peer instruction, and challenging pre-conceptions about a subject are some examples of metacognitive study techniques.

This simple approach is helpful for both adult learners and parents of school-age kids to keep in mind. With so much on the line, medical students in particular stand to benefit from metacognition. It’s crucial for them to get the most out of their lectures, texts, and to utilize the resources available to them. Metacognitive techniques will improve their abilities to absorb new material and demonstrate mastery of what they’re learning.

AUA students are lucky to have an entire division of their school dedicated to teaching strategies that involve metacognition. The Educational Enhancement Department is staffed by a team that specializes in instructional design, instructional technology, individual learning styles, academic counseling, adult learning, and of course learning strategies. They’ve helped many AUA students turn their academic performance around by providing study methods that help them excel in the medical school environment.

As a group, medical students tend to be highly motivated, absurdly enthusiastic, and maybe just a little bit anxious. Though they might be tempted to dive right in, armed only with old study habits that may cost them time and points, using metacognitive strategies could maximize their performance.