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Student Overconfidence

Reading over the Chinese New Year break, I came across this passage in Nudge:

Before the start of Thaler’s class in Managerial Decision Making, students fill out an anonymous survey….One of the questions is ‘In which decile [10% grouping] do you expect to fall in the distribution of grades in the class?’ Students can check the top 10 percent, the second ten percent, and so forth. Since these are MBA students, they are presumably aware that in any distribution, half the population will be in the top 50 percent and half in the bottom. And only 10 percent of the class can, in fact, end up in the top decile.

Nevertheless, the results of this survey reveal a high degree of unrealistic optimism about performance in the class. Typically less than 5 percent of the class expects their performance to be below the median (the 50th percentile) and more than half the class expects to perform in one of the top two deciles.

When I conducted a similar anonymous survey in my classes at the start of this semester, I got almost identical results.


Does it hurt students to be overconfident? Would they perform better if they assessed themselves more realistically?

Assuming that an overconfident student won’t work as hard as he needs to in order to achieve his goal, how can a teacher help him be realistic and adjust his expectations without discouraging him?

Categories: China, Education
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