More than a Feeling: Measuring Your Confidence

By: Jaime Schrabeck

Category: Students

As students, we’re very accustomed to taking achievement tests to measure our knowledge of a subject or our ability to perform a task. Not that we have much of a choice, or derive pleasure from those experiences; they can be very stressful and consequential. Students who enjoy tests likely do so because they perform well. 

“In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” – Tom Bodett

Quality tests that measure what they claim to measure don’t just happen. Developers of tests determine the best format for assessment (multiple-choice, essay, demonstration, etc.) and strive for both reliability (consistency) and validity (accuracy) in their tests by applying psychometric standards. There’s literally a manual, The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, that specifies how testing should be done: the foundations (validity, reliability and fairness), operations (design, scoring, administration, test taker rights and responsibilities, etc.) and applications (psychology, employment, education, policy and more).

“I didn’t fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” – Benjamin Franklin

The testing process and what qualifies as a pass/no pass level of competency should be obvious to test takers in advance. In preparation for any test, and to the greatest extent possible, we should already be familiar with the format, the testing conditions, the instructions, the content and how our performance will be scored and used.

Our licensing exam may be the most important, and very last, achievement test of our careers.

In most cases, testing results in a numerical value representing our knowledge/competency. In the specific case of a government-approved licensing exam, the law dictates a minimum score that qualifies someone as being “minimally competent.” Beyond that, nobody cares about our actual scores. We either pass and receive our license, or we fail and don’t.

Whether you tend to underestimate or overestimate your performance reveals a lot about your confidence.

If asked question by question to rate how confident you are in your answers during an achievement test, how accurately could you predict your score? Do you lower expectations, minimizing your preparation and protecting yourself from potential disappointment? Or inflate your expectations, conveying a lack of concern and projecting satisfaction with your performance?

Trying to assign a numerical (quantitative) value to something qualitative, like confidence, presents its own challenges.

One of the greatest challenges, of course, is that these measures are self-reported. That doesn’t stop researchers from trying to understand the role of confidence in our lives. Measuring “cognitive” confidence in knowledge or abilities differs from the more general self-confidence conceptualized as more of a personality trait. (Learn more about the two different methods for measuring confidence in this research article.)

Want to measure your self-confidence in general? Let’s take the Confidence Code Quiz and discuss.

If you’d like to share your experience and be featured in a future column, please email me at


Tags: confidence, confidence building, students, beauty careers

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