Metacognitive Strategies

Introduction and Definitions

Metacognition is the process of “thinking about thinking” or reflecting on personal habits, knowledge, and approaches to learning. Metacognition in classrooms

Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one’s thinking.  More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner. Metacognition

Metacognition is the process by which learners use knowledge of the task at hand, knowledge of learning strategies, and knowledge of themselves to plan their learning, monitor their progress towards a learning goal, and then evaluate the outcome. Metacognition

Metacognitive strategies are techniques to help students develop an awareness of their thinking processes as they learn. These techniques help students focus with greater intention, reflect on their existing knowledge versus information they still need to learn, recognize errors in their thinking, and develop practices for effective learning. Metacognitive strategies 

To help students learn and retain information and develop effective study skills, instructors can teach them metacognitive strategies so they can think about and regulate their learning. These skills improve student learning outcomes, enable students to have a better understanding of what and how they learn, and make it easier for them to transfer learning across content areas and contexts. Using metacognitive strategies allows students to recognize gaps in their knowledge and to identify and integrate new knowledge into their existing knowledge.

Metacognition comprises two domains: knowledge of cognition and regulation of cognition. Knowledge of cognition includes knowledge about oneself as a learner, knowledge about learning strategies, and knowledge about why and when to use a given strategy. Regulation of cognition includes the ability to plan, monitor, regulate and evaluate the learning process. Using metacognitive strategies helps students become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners and critically assess the extent of their knowledge. They can also actively plan and monitor their learning strategies. As a result, they are more likely to perform better academically.

According to the DePaul University Teaching Commons, metacognitive activities can guide students as they:

  • Identify what they already know.
  • Articulate what they learned.
  • Communicate their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Set goals and monitor their progress.
  • Evaluate and revise their own work.
  • Identify and implement effective learning strategies.
  • Transfer learning from one context to another.

Instructors can be intentional and explicit about teaching metacognition skills. In designing their courses, they can identify opportunities to incorporate metacognitive strategies as well as talking about metacognitive skills: defining them and explaining their importance.

Instructors can use strategies that guide students to think metacognitively about course content and their learning and incorporate strategies to help students develop their self-regulatory skills.


To teach students to engage in self – reflection and regulation about their learning, instructors can both model this behavior and include assignments that involve explicit metacognitive strategies. They can model metacognitive practices by making their own thinking and reflection process explicit, and they can use such tools as active learning techniques and opening and closing class exercises that encourage students to reflect upon and monitor their learning. Examples include:

  • At the end of class, pass out index cards and ask students to list their “muddiest point” from class that day. Encourage students to develop a plan and monitor their progress towards achieving clarity on that point.
  • After students turn in an assignment, ask them to review the steps they took to complete the assignment, identify what was most and least effective, and consider how they could improve their writing in future assignments.
  • In addition to returning students their graded exams provide an “exam wrapper” that asks them to write about how they studied, what content came easiest and hardest, what question formats were easiest and hardest to answer, and how they plan on bolstering their weaker areas of knowledge.
  • Ask students keep a weekly journal in which they document their study habits and success with various assignments and class activities. At the midpoint and end of term, ask students to review their journals to assess what study habits and preparations led to the best performance in assessments and class time.
  • Ask students to keep a troubleshooting journal in which they make note of any time they have a question or hit a roadblock in their work. Once they’ve noted the issue, they can seek help by talking to peers or to you or by consulting other resources.
  • Ask students to submit a reflection on a topic before reading a text and then revisit that reflection after the reading to consider how it informed their thinking.
  • Introduce a problem and have students discuss the strategy they would use to solve it in a think-pair-share activity.
  • Ask students to write a reflection on how they figured out an answer to a question.
  • Ask your students to bring an assigned reading to class and have them consider how reading strategies can help them retain the information. One method is to ask students to individually read a short passage, note two to three strategies they used when reading and compare their strategies with a partner.
  • Ask students at the end of a group activity to reflect on the whole group experience, including what worked and what didn’t.
  • Assign students to review and provide feedback to a peer; after giving students time to read and consider the feedback they receive in the peer review, have them respond to that feedback as they plan their revisions.
  • Assign students to create an elevator pitch in which they convey information to a general audience in a short amount of time. To prepare students must reflect on what they have learned and convey the crucial parts of an idea or activity in a concise way.
  • Give students practice questions before a test and then ask them to reflect on their performance and how they could improve.
  • Ask students to summon their prior knowledge on the topic as a context for the new information they are learning.
  • Ask students to set goals for their performance on a test and to describe what they will do to attain that goal.
  • Ask students to engage in collaborative troubleshooting, either with groups or partners, so they help each other by reflecting on problems together.
  • Have students do pre-assessments to help them understand their existing knowledge, which can help them plan their learning approach. The pre-assessment could take the form of homework, a quiz, or a poll.


Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning
Classroom practices promoting metacognition

Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning
Metacognition in classrooms

Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation
Metacognitive strategies 

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning

University of Michigan Sweetland Center for Writing
Cultivating reflection and metacognition

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence
Teaching Metacognitive Skills

University of Texas/Austin Center for Teaching and Learning

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Teaching + Learning Lab

DePaul University Teaching Commons
Activities for Metacognition


Advice for Students

University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill Learning Center
Metacognitive Study Strategies

Kennesaw State University


Exam Wrappers


One strategy for promote metacognition among students and helping them to improve their exam performance is to use exam wrappers. Exam wrappers are short handouts that students complete when an exam is turned back to them that direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) with an eye toward adapting their future learning. Exam Wrappers

An exam wrapper is a way for students to reflect on their experience on an exam. It is meant for learners to look again at the techniques they use to get ready for an exam, identify strategies they can use to prepare for later assessments, and consider how similar strategies might help them in their studies in and beyond your course. Exam Wrappers


Students can also be asked to fill out wrapper before an exam – to describe their plans – or at the end of the exam – to report and reflect on their preparation before seeing their scores. Exam wrappers are the most common form of wrappers; however, this technique could be used with many types of assignments or papers.


According to the Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, where this technique originated, the purposes of exam wrappers are to provide students with opportunities for

  • Identifying their own individual areas of strength and weakness to guide further study;
  • reflecting on the adequacy of their preparation time and the appropriateness of their study strategies; and
  • characterizing the nature of their errors to find any recurring patterns that could be addressed.”

Thus, according to University of Wisconsin/Green Bay Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, exam wrappers attempt to get a student to think about the following:

  • The amount of time and effort put into studying
  • Study habits used
  • Whether students engage with course objectives (especially to direct their studying)
  • Reasons students lose or believe they lose points
  • Possible interventions or adjustments


A blog on Assessment for Learning at King’s College London listed the following reasons to use exam wrappers:

  • Exam wrappers help students practice metacognitive skills such as planning and evaluating performance.
  • They allow assessment to become a learning tool facilitating discussions of exam study strategies.
  • They allow students to see evidence of how strategies might or might not have successful for them in the past and change behaviorbased on past successes and failures.
  • There is research evidence that students on who completed an exam wrapper scored higher on a subsequent exam than those who didn’t.

It also cautioned that:

  • Students might not be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses in studying.
  • A poor result can be blamed on bad study habits when in fact something else is going on with the students’ understanding of the concept.
  • It is important to include sections on areas of the exam that require different skills so students can analyze their knowledge in relation to each module.
  • Research has also found no difference in either exam performance or scores in metacognitive tests as a result of filling out an exam wrapper. Anecdotal teacher response is that this is because doing it once doesn’t really help and it should be part of a process of facilitating metacognition.

How to Create Exam Wrappers

  1. Begin with a rationale


This “wrapper” assignment will help you evaluate your own preparation and performance for this exam and allow you to adjust your study for the next test. Your responses are solely to help you improve and are not graded—you simply get credit for completion. However, thoughtful, honest answers are useful to you and an important part of self-examination and mental growth. This also helps me suggest strategies for you to use with learning this material. Cognitive “Exam Wrapper” Template

  1. Follow with questions of what they did to prepare
  • How did you study for this exam? What strategies did you use? (Can include list of study strategies, including resources and study habits)?
  • How much time did you spend studying?
  1. Then add reflective, analysis questions
  • What kinds of error did you make? Where did you lose points?
  • Did you succeed or do poorly at answering questions on particular content areas or in particular formats?
  • What was difficult for you in the exam? What was easy?
  • What did you do well to prepare for the exam?
  • Was your grade an accurate reflection of what you knew and how well prepared you felt?
  1. End with questions and prompts designed to help students improve.
  • What could you do differently to study for the next exam?
  • What could the instructor do to improve your learning prior to the next exam?

How to Use Exam Wrappers

  1. The wrapper is usually handed out to students when the exam is returned.
  2. Students are asked to fill out the form in 10 minutes or less during class, or outside of class if necessary.
  3. Students are not graded based on the content of the wrapper but rather receive credit for completing the form.
  4. The instructor reviews the forms, looking for general themes and reviews these themes with the students in class. Adjustments to the course may be based on the findings.
  5. The instructor may hold a discussion about recommended study strategies or have the students discuss and compare their strategies in small groups.
  6. The instructor may meet with students individually to discuss study strategies for future exams.

Using exam wrappers has benefits for students in that they help students develop skills that will improve their performance in a course. Additionally, the skills learned by using exam wrappers may transfer to other learning contexts, to improve performance in other courses. They also have advantages for instructors. For example, while they take time to develop, they don’t need to take up much class time and can be done as homework. They’re easily adaptable to different disciplines and courses and to other kinds of graded assignments. Furthermore, they can be used for multiple assignments during a semester.

Sources (with examples)

Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation

Exam Wrappers

University of Wisconsin Green Bay Center for Advancement of Teaching and Learning

Exam Wrappers

Clemson University Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation

Cognitive “Exam Wrapper” Template

Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Exam Wrappers

King’s College London Assessment for Learning at King’s

Exam Wrappers

University of Vermont Center for Teaching & Learning

Exam Wrappers

Duke University Learning Innovation

Exam Wrappers to Help Students Learn

Florida State University Center for Advancement of Teaching

What Students and Faculty Can Learn from Exams

Purdue University Teaching@Purdue

Creating Exams

University of Idaho Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Cognitive Wrapper Template