Taking stock: don’t underestimate your skills and knowledge!

Either newly graduated or looking towards a new academic year with us in September? The summer vacation is a good time to take stock of the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired so far at the University of Bristol. Being able to accurately articulate your competences is necessary for part-time work, internship and graduate role applications or simply as a confidence booster.

But are we always the best judge of our own abilities? Although reliable self-assessment is a useful skill, it can be challenging and is influenced by a range of factors. It can be affected by having unrealistically high expectations of yourself or a tendency to compare yourself to who you believe is your most successful peer. One study found that medical students with the highest grades tended to underestimate their own performance; whereas those with lower grades overestimated their abilities (Edwards 2003).

Interestingly the Dunning-Kruger effect was observed in situations where those who were most competent at a task were more likely to underestimate their performance, and those with lower competence were more likely to overestimate it. More information http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger effect

Johari Window developed by Luft and Ingham (Luft 1969) is a model which illustrates that there are differences between what we believe about ourselves and what others think.Johari window

When we ask for feedback we are attempting to reduce what is in the ‘blind’ square and shift our awareness more towards the ‘open’ square. Whereas with job applications the aim is to move what is in the ‘hidden’ square towards the ‘open’ square – by the way abilities are articulated to employers. More information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window

Some ways to improve accuracy of self-assessment

  • Seek out sources of informed feedback from Tutors, peers etc.
  • Define who/what you are measuring yourself against
  • Build a realistic picture of what most of your peers are really doing/achieving
  • Remember your self-assessment relates to your aspirations e.g. are you aiming for a first?

You are likely to be doing better than you think! The University of Bristol selects high achievers, both academically and in extracurricular activities. This makes our students popular with a range of employers but might mean some students underestimate their strengths. So when communicating your skills and achievements to employers, be accurate and honest – but without excessive modesty. It’s important not to undersell how great you are!


Edwards RK, Kellner KR, Sistrom CL, Magyari EJ. Medical student self-assessment of performance on an obstetric and gynaecology clerkship. Am J Obstet Gynaecol 2003;188:1078-82

Luft, J.1969: Of Human Interaction. Palo Alto, CA: National Press. p 177