Metacognition enhances fluid intelligence

Paul Main

Metacognition is an essential element of reasoning and problem-solving. It is what allows people to reason deeply and effectively in a wide range of situations, from problem-solving in math class, to problem-solving in a meeting.

Metacognition enhances fluid intelligence

Metacognition is an essential element of reasoning and problem-solving. It is what allows people to reason deeply and effectively in a wide range of situations, from problem-solving in math class, to problem-solving in a meeting, to learning and working with colleagues in a college, to understanding the context of a set of issues on a project. One of the hallmarks of a higher level of cognition is the capacity to think about a topic in a multitude of situations, as required for competent problem-solving.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition is all about using our own thought processes to be more aware of our own actions. It involves a process of self-reflection and understanding our thinking and learning, an awareness of learning (or problem-solving) strategies, and the motivation to use these when working on a new task or task domain. The three ways to gain insight about your thinking are introspection (such as a self-assessment, such as your study program, or a question-asking session) observational (such as taking notes, watching yourself while studying, or having a conversation with a partner) and cognitive (such as reading papers or taking notes about your thinking).

Why does metacognition matter?

The first thing to know is that by default, nearly every form of learning and all forms of teaching involve some kind of metacognitive process (some of these are discussed in Sacks’ article as relevant examples). In fact, we are so familiar with metacognitive processes in learning that we typically think about them in terms of either thinking about ourselves as learners or thinking about ourselves as learners. One notable example of metacognitive thinking can be seen when a musician thinks about the music they are playing.

What are the benefits of metacognition?

Metacognition is believed to have a number of benefits for students, especially in learning more complex academic material. Metacognition is especially helpful for learning high-dimensional learning tasks, like those in which students need to integrate multiple pieces of information in order to complete an assignment or solve a complex problem, such as those found in math and science. Students who have practised their metacognitive skills on a variety of learning tasks are more likely to learn in complex contexts. Learning about these kinds of tasks has the potential to help students learn in the real world where the learning environment is constantly changing and where different contexts require new skills and strategies in order to succeed.

Strategies for metacognition

Metacognition practice is often used in classroom learning and in learning environments (Forterre, 2016). The way a person thinks about learning is often quite different from the way he or she thinks when learning new material. Two strategies to use for metacognition practice are: (a) “meta-cognitive framing” and (b) “object-cognitive framing.” Meta-cognition is the knowledge we use in all our thinking; object-cognition is what we are aware of in learning. Meta-cognition thinking involves evaluating how our learning is likely to unfold; object-cognition thinking involves using information about what the learner already knows to help the learner predict how he or she will perform.

Pre-reading Reading comprehension Skills: Pre-reading skills (i.e., decoding, anticipating, etc.) are the bedrock of reading acquisition and proficiency. Students reading pre-reading materials must be skilled in order to comprehend and produce accurate answers on reading assessments. The common misconception that they are “reading for the test” is often based on not being able to imagine the kinds of questions that students may face. Consequently, many educators and instructors tend to focus too much on reading for the test and not enough on building the skills needed to meet these challenges. Effective instruction and effective assessments can foster students’ confidence in their reading comprehension abilities, their ability to learn at a higher level of difficulty


Like other methods of coaching, coaching students to improve their metacognitive thinking is not as simple as telling them to “think about their thinking” (Tzvetkova, 2011). “I’ll be interested to see what kinds of interventions coaches and teachers are using to help students learn to think about thinking better.