Metacognition: Understanding how we think and learn

This Blog Post was written by Monie Chan (5th year Business Technology Management co-op student, pursuing a minor in eBusiness) and Aidan Dyer (4th year Marketing Management student, pursuing a minor in Finance), both of whom are Peer Academic Coaches at Ted Rogers School of Management’s Academic Success Centre (ASC). It is part of ASC’s “Teach Yourself How to Learn” weekly Blog Series based on Dr. Saundra Yancy McGuire’s book.

What is Metacognition?      

As students, we strive to take charge of our learning to succeed in our academics. It isn’t always easy though. How can we transition away from being passive students who experience setbacks and only doing things as we are told, to being proactive students who can manage our own learning?

An important skill that we can learn to gain a deeper understanding of how we acquire knowledge is Metacognition. Metacognition allows us to monitor, plan and evaluate our learning. It requires us to be reflective and aware of ourselves as problem-solvers. In essence, it is thinking about your own thinking (McGuire, 2018). Did you know that our brains are designed to embrace challenges and to seek out additional opportunities for growth to help us improve? Metacognition is one example of embracing a growth mindset.

Implementing Metacognitive Strategies

What are some metacognitive strategies that students can use for successful academic performance? How can we implement metacognitive strategies in our academic life to become successful students? Here are some examples of what you can try:

Open book

Plan for your studies by preparing for active reading

-Skim the headings, bolded or italicized words, definitions on the side, images and graphs in the chapter first to give yourself a general idea of what the chapter is about.

-Ask yourself questions related to the key parts you’ve just skimmed and then keep those questions in mind while you are reading.

-Highlight or take notes while you are reading to help you focus, understand and memorize while you are reading.

Monitor yourself as you do the homework

-Practice questions at the back of the textbook chapter without using the solutions or your notes as a guide.

-Ask yourself if you’re using all the supports that are available to you. For example: Professor’s office hours, ASC’s Tutoring Centre, course-specific tip sheets, etc.

Evaluate your knowledge by teaching the material to a real or imagined audience

-Try to explain to yourself a topic just by looking at the heading.

-Ask to yourself if you’ve met the learning objective of the chapter/unit. For example, if the chapter asks: “By the end of this chapter, the student should be able to compare and contrast the different types of training that organizations provide,” then a relevant question to ask is: “Am I able to do that, without looking at my notes?”

Student writing an exam at a desk

To improve our learning even further, we need to be able to recognize when we don’t understand the material. We must consistently assess our learning by asking ourselves questions. For example, “Do I understand this material, or am I just memorizing it?” and “What is the most challenging part of this section, and why?” Critically reflecting on our learning helps us identify where we need a little more support and time to learn.

By thinking about the answers to these questions, it helps you to clarify ambiguities and identify the core idea of the chapter, which in turn, improves your understanding and strengthens your memories.

We can also improve our metacognition by reflecting on our past exam performances. Everytime we receive a grade back on an exam/assignment, we should reflect on the way we prepared for it. This way we can assess what went wrong and what went well, and adjust our preparation strategies accordingly. “What strategies did I use to prepare for this exam?” “What strategies didn’t work well?” “What strategies will I implement next time?” This type of critical reflection also gives us an opportunity to try new strategies.

By evaluating the strategies being used, you are accessing the level of efficiency and effectiveness of your study. The strategy that works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Knowing the strategies that best work for you can not only increase your productivity, but also make the studying process easier.

Applying Metacognition: Personal Reflections

Monie: In first year when I was taking SSH105 (Critical Thinking I), I received 58% on my first test. Rather than letting this mark discourage me, I decided to apply metacognitive strategies to improve my academics. I took responsibility for my learning by actively seeking resources to help me improve. I reviewed my course material before going to class and asking questions and went to my professor’s and my TA’s office hours. I used my first test grade as a benchmark to see what went well and what did not in my studies. After reflecting on my studying behaviour, and applying new learning strategies, I was able to achieve an 82% for my final grade for that course.

Finance Calculator

Aiden: I can personally attest to metacognition’s benefits, as it has helped me succeed in all aspects of my academic career. I’ve always thought that I was naturally bad at math, and that this was just the way it was meant to be. Only after taking responsibility for my own success, reflecting on my learning and adjusting accordingly was I able to succeed in my math courses. I can now say that by applying metacognitive skills, I have been able to minor in Finance and become a successful student in all areas. Poor academic performance is never an indication of how “smart” you are, but rather a reflection of your behaviour and the learning strategies you choose to use.

We believe you can take your learning to the next level by using metacognition, too!

In Conclusion

As students, we are in charge of our own behaviour and choices. Metacognition is a lifelong attitude towards our learning journey. We apply metacognition to understand our own thinking and learning processes. When we are able to reflect on how we learn, what our strengths and areas for improvement are and view ourselves as problem solvers, we become stronger learners who are using metacognition. This critical reflection allows us to select the most suitable learning strategies to apply to our studies. Now it’s your turn! Become an active learner by taking control and responsibility of your learning process. Apply metacognition to achieve greater success in your academics!

Join us next week to learn how to apply Bloom’s Taxonomy to our study cycle.


Kwantlen Polytechnic University. (n.d.). Four Key Questions for Learning Success. Retrieved from Learning Aid Template

McGuire, S. Y. (2018). Teach Yourself How to Learn: Strategies You Can Use to Ace Any Course at Any Level (1st ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing LLC.