Dr Sonia Hood, Study Advice Manager
We all know that grades are important. Despite our efforts to encourage students to take note of their feedback, it is the grade (the number) that they focus on. We also know that grades have an impact on a student’s belief in their capability, their self-efficacy belief, which in itself is a precursor of academic achievement (Richardson, Abraham & Bond, 2012); self-efficacious students will set themselves higher grades and are more likely to overcome barriers to achieve them (Bandura, 1997).
But my recent doctoral research has highlighted that it’s not the grade itself that impacts on self-efficacy beliefs but how a student interprets this grade. This may sound obvious, or even a moot point, but it is arguably a key distinction.
Students need to make sense of these grades and, in the absence of clear expectations, they will compare their grades with their peers. Inevitably, unfavourable comparisons will negatively impact on self-belief. Even if students have fared better, they will make judgements on the comparative efforts they put in to achieve these results, which can also damage their belief in their academic capabilities. Students also believe that their grades should continually increase, despite the assignment genre or subject, and if they don’t, further damage to self-belief occurs. This is perhaps not surprising when we consider the secondary school environments in which many arrive here from, with its focus on attainment and progress tracking.
So, what can we, as educators, do to foster self-efficacy beliefs in our students? Fundamentally, we need to support our students to ‘understand’ their grade and lessen the need to compare their grades with others. When they arrive, we should explain the university grading system, sharing with them grade ranges and averages; openly discuss that grades may not always increase and this may be a reflection of their different strengths in the variety of assessments they undertake; and above all, ensure they feel in control of their learning and are empowered to develop skills throughout their university journey.
Self-efficacy is a powerful concept and key to academic success. Fostering this by supporting students to interpret their mastery experiences in realistic ways is something we can all do to help.
For more information on this contact Dr Sonia Hood, Study Advice Manager
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy : the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students’ academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 138(2), 353-387. doi: 10.1037/a0026838