June 19, 2015

Self-Assessment is Essential to Lifelong Learning

by Nkem P. Nonyel, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Holy Cross Hospital 

Self-assessment is the process of ongoing reflection, self-judgment, and self-monitoring to summarize one’s strengths and clarify areas for improvement. This includes learning from one’s experiences; judging one’s personal, educational, and professional performance; examining personal characteristics based on evidence, external standards, and explicit criteria for the purpose of future quality and performance improvements. Research has shown that self-assessment can improve learner's communication skills, and can result in behavior change.1 

Self-assessment skill is beneficial to every learner. McMillan and Hearn state “Students need to self-assess to know when they are learning, how much effort they must expend for success, when they have been successful, when they are wrong, and which learning strategies work well for them”1 The reinforcement of one’s knowledge, skills, values, and behaviors can enhance one’s self-esteem and influence motivation by strengthening self-efficacy and readiness to change. Self-assessment is an essential for lifelong learning for students, educators, and professionals.

Self-assessment can help learners “to discover their own learning potential” by developing self-awareness of their own beliefs and potential misconceptions. It may be used to promote ongoing appraisal of the qualities of one’s performance, and reinforce one’s cognitive abilities and skills. Through self-assessment, one can discover one’s likes and dislikes, knowledge gaps, and opportunities for self-improvement. Self-assessment may also be used to improve morale, strengthen commitment to competent performance, and enhance motivation to take responsibility for one’s professional growth. Self-assessment is facilitated by using and incorporation feedback from peers, teachers and/or preceptors as a learner sets goals and formulates action plans.

Self-assessment involves reflection, planning, acting, evaluating, and recording. Self-assessment could be completed using paper or electronic methods. Other self-assessment activities might include keeping a journal or diary of activities, proofreading and revising one’s work, asking questions to clarify doubts, recording and reviewing audiotape or videotape of one’s own performance.

Teachers should engage and assist learners as they perform their own self-evaluation. The teacher can do so by first explaining to learners how he/she sets and evaluates his/her own goals. Next, the teacher can use thought-provoking questions to stimulate the learners’ thinking about pertinent concepts that should be addressed during goal setting. Such questions allow the learners to assess their thought-process while completing a task, evaluate their strengths and challenges during the assignment/project, and assess the amount of time invested in the assignment/project versus what they gained from the assignment/project.

It is common for any learner to over-estimate their performance. Video recording a student’s performance, either during oral presentations or practical activities, allows students to view themselves and critique their performance.  An educator can either videotape the learners or encourage them to videotape themselves.  Videos should be reviewed in private or with the instructor to avoid shaming. The educator may have the students complete a written self-evaluation immediately following an activity before they view the video, and again after viewing the recording. This way, the student is able to differentiate between the perception and reality of their performance. The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy uses videotaping during Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE).

An educator can also model self-evaluation and the need for continuous performance improvement by videotaping some of his lectures, and having learners watch and critique his performance and provide feedback on his communication skills and teaching style. The educator may intermittently hand out evaluation forms, or use a suggestions box to seek the learners' opinion on how well the class is going, what the teacher is satisfactorily engaging the learners well or not.

Assigning learners to write Personal Learning Plan may help them become active participant in their education since they can create goals based on their perceive personal and professional needs. A written Personal Learning Plan will also facilitate dialogue between educators and learners because learners will have the opportunity to meet with the educators to review the set goals and the activities to ensure the attainment of the goals. Educators may also assign reflection essays to students to prompt them to reflect on ways to bridge gaps in knowledge and skills.

Self-assessment is an essential metacognitive skill that learners use to gauge their general background knowledge but determine the best strategies to problem-solve.4 In a study to evaluated the implementation of self-assessment among student health care practitioners and its impact on learning, Dearnley and Meddings noted that self-assessment enhanced the student’s ability to think reflectively and to achieve their academic potential.6 

Students can tell that they have learned when they can use self-testing, self-questioning, summarizing, repeating or explaining to improve their understanding of pertinent concepts.4 Teachers can tell that students have learned from self-assessment, not merely from grades, but when they “develop reflective skills to become self-regulated and lifelong learners”, consistently use analytical methods to approach problems, apply their knowledge and skills across a variety of situations, and require less prompting.4 


    1. McMillan J, Hearn J. Student self-assessment: the key to stronger student motivation and higher achievement. Educational Horizons 2008: 40-49.
    2. Bose S, Oliveras E, Edson WN. How can Self-assessment improve quality of the healthcare. USAIDS Quality Assurance Project 2001; 2(4).
    3. Krueger JL. Pharmacy students’ application of knowledge from classroom to introductory pharmacy practice. American Journal of pharmaceutical education 2013; 77(2) article 31
    4. Kurnaz MA, Cimer SO. How do students know that they have learned? An investigation of students’ strategies. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2010; 3666-3672.
    5. Sarget J, Armson H, Chesluk B, et al. The process and dimensions of informed self-assessment: aconceptual model. Academic Medicine 2010; 85(7); 1212-1220.
    6. Dearnley CA, Meddings FS. Student self-assessment and tis impact on learning – a pilot study. Nurse Education Today 2007; 27; 333-340

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