Optimistic Overconfidence: A Study of Law Student Academic Predictions
22 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2023
Date Written: July 28, 2023
This paper explores optimistic overconfidence among law students. We surveyed more than 600 law students at the beginning of their first year of law school, asking for their predictions about how they would perform relative to their peers in their first year. We found that students were overconfident. On average, students thought that they would finish their first year of law school ahead of nearly 75% of their peers. Almost all students (95%) predicted that they would finish their first year in the top half of the class and more than two-thirds of students believed they would finish in the top 30%. The degree of overconfidence is particularly substantial for those who find themselves at the bottom of the class. Indeed, just 5% of students predicted that they would finish below the median. Thus, the vast majority of the students who end up in the bottom half of the class did not expect to find themselves there when they started law school. In addition, students’ predictions were unrelated to their actual first-year performance.
This study adds to the breadth of research on human overconfidence. The optimistic overconfidence displayed by students has the potential to be both an asset and an obstacle. Some measure of optimism and confidence (even overconfidence) may serve these students well in their careers. But so too will the ability to predict problems, make objective projections, and engage in accurate self-evaluation. Law school provides an opportunity for students to develop the capacity to draw on their optimism when it is useful while cultivating skills that allow them to be realistic when necessary.
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