Consequences of a Self-Appraisal, Self-Correcting Approach to Exams

I read with interest Joann M. Montepare’s article “A Self- Correcting Approach to Multiple Choice Tests” [Observer, October 2005]. Montepare’s suggestion, to return students their exams, so that they may reflect on errors and search for the correct answers at home, seems well justified, bold, and efficient. I agree with Montepare that an exam represents not only an opportunity to test what a student knows but also a resourceful learning opportunity for both teachers and students.

However, in my experience — teaching at the college level since 1992 — I have used self-correction only in class, never as an out-of-class task. As such, there are a few notable differences between my procedure and Montepare’s. The first and most important difference refers to the use of a self-appraisal, which is carried out before the self-correction. Specifically, after each exam but before one knows the actual results, each student is asked to make a self-appraisal of his or her performance. The student must guess the ratio between his or her right and wrong answers for both multiple-choice and essay questions. The rationale of this pre-correction self-appraisal is to determine how accurate the student’s image about the test results is immediately after he or she has taken the exam. The student’s selfcorrection is always followed by a teacher’s correction and feedback in the next class meeting.

When compared with the real results of the exam, self-appraisals may fall in one of the following categories: first, under-evaluation, when the perception of one’s performance is significantly lower than the actual performance; second, over-evaluation, when the perception of one’s performance is significantly higher than the actual performance; third, a fair, objective self-evaluation, when one’s perception is very close to the actual performance.

A student’s auto-classification in one of these categories becomes evident after the self-correction and he or she has received feedback. Each student then has an opportunity both to know his or her actual results and to measure the accuracy of the performance appraisal.

How important are these two elements for the meta-cognitive processes of learning? The procedure of self-evaluation — validated through self-correction and based on real outcomes — is conceptually rooted in the classical distinction made by James (1890/1983, pp. 279- 285, p. 350) between self as knower (“I”) and self as known (“Me”) and Jung’s idea on ego-inflation and its relation to the inner voice (1934/1977, pp. 184-185; 1943/1977, p. 71).

Practically, the teacher must explain this procedure on the first day of class and before each exam. Also, students should be told that as the individual’s knowledge in a given field increases, the perception of one’s anticipated and actual performance should become closer to the actual result.

If self-evaluations are a bit higher, as we know from the model of positive illusions (Brown & Taylor), then we should expect positive outcomes. However, huge discrepancies between perception and actual performance may indicate either an ego-inflation (when the perception is much higher than the real result) or an ego–deflation (when the perception is much lower than the real performance). The long-term expectation is that one’s perception and his or her actual results should become closer. The process should also increase the chances of objective self-evaluation, both immediately and in future performances.

Self-appraisal after a test can be carried out in three different stages: before one takes the test, in order to approximate level of readiness for the test and future performance; after the test, in order to self-approximate past performance; after the test in order to juxtapose a teacher’s feedback. The self-correcting process and the complete feedback have the function of validating or invalidating the selfappraisal, and it may improve future fairness. Ideally, all these stages are used, though I only propose to students the first stage; it is their choice to go through it or not.

What’s more, the procedure of self-appraisal, validated by selfcorrection, might enhance the development of a healthy self-esteem grounded in actual performances and fair self-assessment. Self-appraisal of one’s performance might reduce false expectations, exaggerated fears, and disappointments.

Most of the students enjoy this practice and become aware that the cognitive resources of this procedure are related to its moral challenges. The self-appraisal techniques — combined with self-correcting procedures and feedback from the teacher — can increase the self-regulatory traits of the learning process.

Catalin Mamali
Loras College and Northeast Iowa Community College


  • Brown, J.D. and S.E. Taylor (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193-210.
  • James, W. (1983). The principles of psychology (F. Burkhardt, Ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1890).
  • Jung, C. G. (1977). The development of personality (H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire, Eds., and translated by R. F. C. Hull, trans.). Bollingen Series, Volume 17. New York: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1934).
  • Jung, G. C. (1977). Two essays on analytical psychology (H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire, Eds.; R. F. C. Hull). Bollingen Series, Volume 17. New York: Princeton University Press (Original work published 1943).

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