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The Illusion of Competence:
What It Is and How to Get Rid of It

You've certainly met people who were convinced of their professionalism or talent, even though they didn't really have the skills to do so. Or, perhaps, even in your student years now you have such fellow students who are sure that they would pass the exam perfectly because they know all the material, but for some reason, they are failing. All this is called the "illusion of competence" and it prevents you from reaching the top. We propose to consider this phenomenon in more detail and identify ways to fight it and become a better student than you are now.

Illusion of Competence

What Is the Illusion of Competence?

Cornell University psychologist David Dunning and graduate student Justin Krueger have long studied this phenomenon. Therefore, the illusion of competence is often called the Dunning-Krueger effect. The study began with a history of senseless robbery in the United States in 1995. There, the man robbed two banks, he did not have a mask to hide his face, and he just smiled at the camera. Police arrested the robber almost immediately. However, he was very surprised that video surveillance cameras have filmed him because he was convinced that the lemon juice applied to the skin made him invisible. The robber knew that lemon juice was used as invisible ink and decided that he could go unnoticed with it. Police concluded that the thief was not mentally ill, he was just very wrong.

Thus, the illusion of competence is a state when we think we have assimilated some information, when in fact we have not.

It prevents you from using the material in your studies or performing tasks correctly and endangers your studying and career in general. It may even cause you to get a statement of purpose writer after a few failed statements of purposes written by you. To avoid such cases and to become a better student let’s see some misleading attitudes that make you think you have mastered the material:

  • You think that the more time you spend studying the material or the longer you listen to the explanation, the better you understand everything. In fact, it is not the time that matters, but the quality of your studying.
  • It seems to you that the more interesting material you will be able to remember better. However, even interesting material is often not able to distract you from social networks and make you really listen.
  • You think that constant underlining, highlighting, or taking notes will help you remember better, but in practice, this does not work and as a result, you get just a colored book.

How to Get Rid of the Illusion of Competence?

So how to deal with these misleading statements and stop considering yourself an expert in any field after listening to a webinar on the topic? We have just the tips for you.

Illusion of Competence

Retell What You Heard

The best way to learn the material is to tell it in your own words. Therefore, immediately after the training or after reading the book, repeat what you talked about, you can also tell this information to family or other students. Then try the same thing in a week or two. In this way you will gain an understanding of the material, and only then can you be sure that you have mastered it.


After the lecture, discuss it with other students. Express theses that you liked and disagreed with. Ask participants in the learning process about their impressions. Such a conversation or even a discussion will help to consolidate the material better. The same goes for reading books. Choose the same book with a student to read, and when you're done, discuss it.

Put Knowledge Into Practice

The acquired knowledge is best absorbed in practice. So, if you are taking courses, start incorporating knowledge into practice in the chosen field. You don't need to aim for global things right away, start with short-term plans. For example, you have just mastered the skills of effective communication with - start to gradually introduce them into your academic life and at the end of the month you will see that you are becoming a better student, your reputation improves, and you start getting more useful acquaintances.

Remember that it is impossible to be an expert in everything, and often those who know a lot do not really know anything. It is more important to become truly competent in your field and then you are not afraid of any illusions.

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