Metacognitive Surveys

AOI | Learning Innovations
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Weekly Tip: Metacognitive Surveys

When we want our students to leave our class better equipped to find reliable information on their own, to apply content to analyze and solve real-world problems, or with any other skill we know they will need, one tool that can help us measure their learning is a metacognitive survey. Metacognition refers to how people become aware of their own thought processes.

The metacognitive survey, then, is an open-ended, reflective exercise where students typically respond to prompts in short or long-form writing. In these prompts, students reflect on course content as they apply to real-world contexts. Ideally, a metacognitive survey is based on the assignment or exam, links to larger course outcomes, and explicitly asks students to make connections between course content and the world outside the classroom. Through high-quality metacognitive surveys, students become more self-aware learners, and they articulate how coursework has impacted them.

Why Should I Give my Students Metacognitive Surveys?

Metacognitive surveys allow students an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate their process for tackling an assignment, preparing for an exam, or even contributing to a project. Through this and other reflective practices students learn:

Metacognitive surveys can help students…

  • Become self-aware learners.
  • Transfer to other contexts.
  • Articulate knowledge and its importance.
  • Develop as professionals.
  • Appreciate that process is as important as the final product.
  • Reinforce growth mindset.
  • Learn to give focused and objective feedback.

How Can I Design a Metacognitive Survey?

In Canvas, metacognitive surveys are easy to set up and can be done using the Quizzes option. When creating a quiz:

  • Select “Graded Survey” or “Ungraded Survey” as the quiz type. We recommend giving students credit for completing the survey to incentivize more thorough and honest engagement with the questions.
  • Upon completion, students will receive credit for completing the survey if set up as a graded survey. Whether graded or ungraded, survey submissions can be anonymous, which can help to increase honesty and can encourage asking questions students might otherwise feel uncomfortable asking.

What Should I Ask on a Metacognitive Survey?

Good questions for metacognitive surveys include…

Task-Specific Prompts

  • Reflect on your preparation for the [assignment, exam, quiz, etc.]. Were the strategies, skills, and knowledge used effective for the given task?
  • Do I see any patterns in how I approached my work (e.g., following an outline, creating a schedule, etc.)?
  • What was your greatest obstacle to completing this task/learning this content, and what strategies did you use to overcome that obstacle?
  • What was your procedure for completing this task?
  • How did learning the concept or completing the task help you reach the course learning outcomes? Rank the outcomes in order of how relevant you felt this task was to each outcome.
  • What have you learned about your strengths and where can you improve?

Considerations for Other Contexts

  • What do you find most interesting about this topic and why?
  • What do you think is the most important part of what we learned and why?
  • How does what we talked about fit into your career goals?
  • Where have you noticed anything like this topic in other parts of your life?

How are Metacognitive Surveys Helpful to Instructors?

Metacognitive surveys allow instructors to:

  • Receive just-in-time feedback with less work and less delay than traditional assignments (tests, papers, etc.)
  • Demonstrate time and investment in student needs.
  • Evaluate and address misconceptions before high-stakes assessments.
  • Create opportunities for students to better monitor their own learning.
  • Monitor your teaching as an ongoing process of inquiry, experimentation, research and reflection.


This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.