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Background Interest in the role of metacognition has been steadily rising in most forms of education. This study focuses on the construction of a questionnaire for measuring metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive regulation and metacognitive responsiveness among students in higher education and the subsequent process of testing to determine its validity. Purpose The aim of the study was to construct an original instrument for measuring features of metacognition, henceforth referred to as the Awareness of Independent Learning Inventory (AILI), and further to establish the similarities and differences between this model and existing instruments for measuring metacognition. Sample The AILI questionnaire was distributed to 1058 students in various types of Teacher Training Institutes in the Netherlands and Belgium. The abridged English version of the questionnaire was administered to another sample of 729 students reading Economics and Business Administration at the University of Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands. Design and methods The AILI instrument was constructed on the basis of a facet design along two dimensions: components of metacognition and topics of concern to students in higher education. The data gathered with the instrument was analyzed by means of a generalisability study and a decision study, respectively. The validity of the instrument was investigated by using confirmatory factor analysis. Results The generalisability study showed that the reliability of the instrument was satisfactory. The decision study revealed that the number of items included in the questionnaire could be reduced substantially by leaving out two components of one of the dimensions in the facet design, without losing too much generalisability. The validity study showed that there was a considerable level of congruity between parts of the AILI questionnaire and the relevant parts of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Conclusions The AILI questionnaire is a reliable and valid instrument for measuring metacognitive knowledge, regulation and responsiveness. It is suitable for use in the evaluation of the effects of interventions that purport to increase metacognitive knowledge, regulation and responsiveness of students in higher education.