Confidently Wrong!

Confident-error Feedback

chaseHow many times have you confidently called out an answer, when watching a television quiz show, only to discover that you were in-fact wrong? As you stare aghast at the screen while the green light flashes upon the right answer (usually B), and the “Chaser” gets one step closer, something rather interesting is happening from a feedback and learning perspective.

Butterfield & Metcalfe (2001) discovered that participants who were confident when giving an incorrect response in a quiz were most likely to correct their response in a subsequent quiz. Fazio & Marsh (2009) suggest that this ‘surprise’ phenomenon could be attributed to the “learners devoting more attention to feedback when they discover their confident answer was wrong.”

Therefore, knowing our pupils’ confidence levels in relation to their responses could help us to identify their confident-errors and target our feedback right there: where they are most likely to respond.

As we are not in the business of smashing our pupils’ confidence to pieces, the timing and frequency of confident-error feedback may need to be carefully considered. Whilst I agree that it is important to encode success through frequent feedback in the early stages of a unit of learning (Didau, 2016) perhaps opportunities will arise as pupils’ confidence develops during the latter stages of a unit?

A further alternative could be to use confident-error feedback to determine the accuracy of prior knowledge at the outset of a unit of learning through pre-testing, quizzing or hypothesising.

I’ve observed a variation of this in science teaching where pupils are asked to predict the outcome of an experiment. They do this with unnerving confidence at times and, once they discover that they are wrong, their indignation is palpable. Nevertheless, this confident-error feedback or activation of prior-knowledge (only to challenge it), sets up the subsequent learning nicely and they are less likely to make the same mistake again (Butterfield & Metcalfe, 2001).

In ‘The Feedback Continuum’ Didau (2016) explains the merit of delaying, reducing and summarising feedback to promote memorisation. As feedback is reduced and delayed, learning requires greater effort with a ‘new, higher level of learning’ the result (Clark & Bjork, 2014).

It is once this new, higher level of learning has taken place that I envisage a more pertinent use for confident-error feedback. Once the pupils are confident in their understanding of the material, this approach to feedback may prove both timely and effective in increasing storage strength (learning) and retrieval strength (accessibility).


Butterfield, B., & Metcalfe, J. (2001). Errors committed with high confidence are hypercorrected. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 27(6), 14-91.

Clark, C. M., & Bjork, R. A., (2014). When and Why introducing Difficulties and Errors Can Enhance Instruction. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the teaching of Psychology web site:

Didau, D. (2014). The Feedback Continuum. Available at: (Accessed: 18/10/2016)

Fazio, L. K., & Marsh, E. J. (2009) Surprising feedback improves later memory. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 16(1), 88-92.



About blakeeducation

Assistant Head in Hampshire. Advocate for social mobilty through effective parental engagement, quality T&L, literacy, social capital, curriculum and culture.
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