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How much do students overestimate their abilities and what can you do about it?

How much do students overestimate their abilities and what can you do about it?

3 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset
  • The science of learning

It’s no secret that people often see themselves through rose-coloured glasses. They believe they can run faster, jump higher and solve problems quicker than they actually can.

Recent research has confirmed that it is quite common for children to overestimate their abilities. But have you ever wondered why this happens?

Read on to learn more about:

  • What the research says on students overestimating their ability
  • How this can lead to procrastination
  • How to help students overcome procrastination

What does the research say?

Recent research has provided fascinating insights into children’s self-perception of their abilities. It found that children consistently overestimate their performance across various tasks, with their estimates being approximately 1.3 times their actual performance. This self-overestimation is attributed to several factors including past performance experiences, general self-efficacy beliefs and motivational factors.

This isn’t exclusive to tasks they’re unfamiliar with, either – this was found even when children receive accurate feedback about their performance. Furthermore, there was no difference between girls and boys.

Interestingly, this decreases as children grow older, suggesting that the development of their metacognitive abilities has an influence in the process. Metacognition, often described as “thinking about thinking”, enables children to monitor, control and judge their performance more accurately. The study also highlighted cultural influences on children’s self-perceptions, suggesting that the rise in individualistic values over time might be contributing to an increase in their self-overestimation.

How does this link to procrastination?

Now, what does this mean for procrastination?

Procrastination is a delay in task initiation or completion, often because of a misjudgement of one’s abilities or the time the task would take them to complete. If children overestimate their abilities, they might assume they can complete tasks faster or more efficiently than they actually can – resulting in procrastination.

For example, if a child overestimates their reading speed, they might put off starting a book report, thinking they can finish it quickly. When they finally start and realise the task is more time-consuming than they thought, this leads to rushed work or missed deadlines. In essence, a child’s overestimation of their abilities can lead to a cycle of procrastination, underperformance and stress.

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How to help students overcome procrastination?

Procrastination can be a significant hurdle for your students to overcome in their learning journey. For teachers, understanding these links can help you develop strategies to manage children’s self-perceptions and combat procrastination.

Here are some evidence-informed strategies you can use to help your students overcome procrastination:

  1. Encourage realistic self-assessment – Help your students understand their abilities accurately and encourage them to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses honestly. This understanding can prevent the overconfidence that leads to procrastination.
  2. Provide accurate feedback – Constructive feedback plays a crucial role in managing procrastination. Regularly provide clear, specific feedback on your students’ performance to help them gauge their progress and adjust their efforts accordingly.
  3. Teach time management skills – Introduce your students to tools like planners and calendars and teach them to break down tasks into manageable chunks. This can help them plan their work efficiently, reducing the likelihood of delay.
  4. Create a mistake-friendly environment – Foster a classroom culture where making mistakes is seen as a part of the learning process. This approach can reduce the fear of failure; a common trigger for procrastination.

There are many other strategies to help students tackle procrastination, such as the “three-minute rule, which encourages students to work a task they’ve been avoiding for just three minutes. Usually, this makes the task seem less daunting and shifts their focus towards action, making them more likely to work longer and even finish the task.

For more strategies your students can use to tackle procrastination themselves, check out our blog, 7 Ways to Overcome Procrastination.

Final thoughts

When students have a more accurate sense of their abilities, they’re less likely to delay tasks and more likely to approach their work with confidence and determination. Teachers play a pivotal role in guiding students towards this understanding. From fostering realistic self-assessment to providing accurate feedback, teaching time management skills to creating a mistake-friendly environment, you can make a significant difference.

Effective learning starts with the ability to focus on the right thing at the right time and we can help your students to do this. Book our Concentration Training student workshop today!


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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