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Retrospective bias in test performance: Providing easy items at the beginning of a test makes students believe they did better on it

Abstract

We examined the effect of three variables (test list structure, report option, and framing) on retrospective bias in global evaluations of test performance (postdictions). Participants answered general knowledge questions and estimated correctness of their performance after each block. The ordering of the questions within a block affected bias: Participants believed they had answered more questions correctly when questions were sorted from the easiest to the hardest than when the same questions were randomized or sorted from the hardest to the easiest. This bias was obtained on global postdictions but was not apparent on item-by-item ratings, pointing to a memory-based phenomenon. In addition, forcing participants to produce a response to every question increased performance without affecting evaluations. Finally, framing the evaluation question in terms of the number of questions answered incorrectly (rather than the number correctly answered) did not affect how positively participants evaluated their performance, but did render postdictions less accurate. Our results provide evidence that students’ evaluations of performance after a test are prone to retrospective memory biases.

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Correspondence to Yana Weinstein.

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Support for this research was provided by a James S. McDonnell Foundation 21st Century Science Initiative grant: Bridging Brain, Mind and Behavior/Collaborative Award.

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Weinstein, Y., Roediger, H.L. Retrospective bias in test performance: Providing easy items at the beginning of a test makes students believe they did better on it. Memory & Cognition 38, 366–376 (2010). https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.38.3.366

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.38.3.366

Keywords

  • Confidence Rating
  • Random Condition
  • Hard Condition
  • Confidence Judgment
  • Easy Question