Are cognitive biases affecting your test performance?


Behavioral science is a very dynamic and expanding multidisciplinary field of science that deals with human actions usually in the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It has many applications in economics, biology, law, political science and many more fields.

The findings of behavioral science have subtly changed the perspective that humans are rational agents. Our brains are gifted with many cognitive abilities that other animals lack. However, to survive in some situations, evolution has conditioned them to work intuitively, because clear rational thinking takes time, effort, and energy. And when we think intuitively our brains are susceptible to biases and prone to make mistakes, which in many cases are very hard to overcome.

There are some well-studied concepts of behavioral science that can be beneficial in stressful situations with limited time. One example is during a test. Because of the time restriction when taking a test, the human brain is forced to think fast and intuitively, which is very efficient. However, there are some situations that a brain can be tricked and misjudge a question.

A very common cognitive bias is anchoring. Anchoring occurs when an individual uses an initial piece of information to make following judgments. Once the anchor is set, the brain will use it for any further judgments. This bias can be detrimental when used to interpret subsequent information using the anchor. During multiple choice tests anchoring can have a very extensive consequence. It is very difficult to avoid, but experience could possible reduce its effect to some extent.

Another phenomenon that can affect test takers is the illusion of validity. The illusion of validity is when a person overestimates their ability to interpret a data set and make a valid prediction. This phenomenon is better described by what professor Kahneman, a renowned behavioral scientist, calls WYSIATI “what you see is all there is”. This cognitive bias can affect the student in a test where a tricky question might mislead the student to a very simple answer that is wrong. A student can avoid this illusion by questioning their own assumptions.

The first two cognitive biases, are situations where a student can be susceptible to their own intuition and overconfidence. However, a student can fall prey to the opposite cognitive bias.

There are two distinctive cognitive biases that can have a detrimental effect to a student by being too cautious and thinking too much about an easy problem. People tend to overestimate the probabilities of unlikely events, and overweight unlikely events in their decisions. These cognitive biases can make the student overthink about a problem with a simple and clear answer and take more time to answer a question that would have otherwise required very little time. Again, just as with the other biases, it is very hard to train the brain to avoid them.

There are two things that can help us with such biases: knowledge of the biases and expertise in the specific field in which we want to avoid them. Knowledge of the biases might be able to help us better detect them. Expertise can have a more profound effect, because when someone becomes an expert on a subject, they develop an intuition for it, thus limiting cognitive biases.

At AGF Tutoring we have highly qualified tutors who can not only help our students master a subject, but also advise and mentor them as to the strategies and tactics required to ace a test, in order to be better prepared and avoid falling to cognitive biases.

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