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.

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Published in CBE—Life Sciences Education, v. 18, no. 2, ar16, p. 1-10.

© 2019 J. L. Osterhage et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2019 The American Society for Cell Biology.

This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).

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This work was supported by an HHMI Sustaining Excellence-2014 grant (#52008116).

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