Stewart, Jane, O'Halloran, Cath, Barton, J Roger, Singleton, Stephen J, Harrigan, Patrick and Spencer, John (2000) Clarifying the concepts of confidence and competence to produce appropriate self-evaluation measurement scales. Medical Education, 34 (11). pp. 903-909. ISSN 0308-0110

This paper reviews the literature on self-evaluation and discusses the findings of a small-scale qualitative study which explored the terms 'confidence' and 'competence' as useful measures in a self-evaluation scale. Four pre-registration house officers took part in interviews and completed a provisional instrument to assess their perceived competence.

Competence and confidence are useful terms for house officers expressing beliefs about their ability to perform their job but the terms should not be used synonymously. In our study, 'competent' represented what individuals knew about their ability and was based on the individual's previous experience of the task. 'Confident' described a judgement which influenced whether an individual was willing or not to undertake an activity. Confidence was not necessarily based on known levels of competence and therefore performance of tasks which were unfamiliar to the house officer also involved the assessment of risk. The authors give examples of task and skill scales which may be useful in the process of self-evaluation by pre-registration house officers.

The authors suggest that the process of assessing oneself is complicated, and by its very nature can never be objective or free from the beliefs and values individuals hold about themselves. Therefore self-evaluation instruments are best used to help individuals analyse their work practices and to promote reflection on performance. They should not be used to judge the 'accuracy' of the individual's evaluation.

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