Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Self-efficacy and academic achievement

Self-efficacy and academic achievement:
What role does self-efficacy play in academic achievement?


Academic achievement is multifaceted and important: its impact may be far reaching, as the individual (through opportunity), institutions (via reputation) and society (which reaps the generation of human capital) can benefit (Alhadabi & Karpinski, 2020).

Self-efficacy relates to a person’s innate beliefs about their skills and abilities. Bandura (1997) proposed that those with greater self-efficacy ultimately performed better within an academic setting. This can be realised through greater motivation and perseverance, and a better use of cognitive resources; additionally, students are more likely to engage in behaviours that facilitate achievement (Maddux & Kleiman, 2017).

Self-efficacy is but one significant factor which may predict academic achievement; it sits alongside other determinants that fall within the interrelated domains of personality, motivation, and self-regulated learning strategies. It is important to note that self-efficacy is malleable, therefore there is the opportunity to put strategies in place, in order to promote academic success.

Ultimately, a learner has agency; they may change their behaviour and motivations. It is important they be made aware of constructs (outside the traditional confines of intellectual and cognitive ability) that influence academic achievement. Self-efficacy sits alongside mediating variables (or motivational factors) like effort regulation and goal setting, which together bolster success. Awareness of this drives metacognitive changes, which in turn strengthens perception of self and promotes helpful learning behaviours.

Focus questions:

  • How does self-efficacy effect[grammar?] academic achievement?
  • How does self-efficacy relate to other learning constructs?
  • How can academic self-efficacy be fostered?

Where does self-efficacy fit?Edit

Self-efficacy is a multi-dimensional construct (see Figure 1). Self-efficacy is in itself, one construct (or belief system). It also, however, forms part of the self-regulated learning cycle, and additionally shares a relationship with other non-cognitive constructs; these cooperative influences then promote academic success.

Figure 1. Self-efficacy as a multi-dimensional construct.

Theoretical frameworksEdit

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Figure 2. Picture of Albert Bandura who developed the construct of social efficacy as part of his work on social cognitive theory.

Self-efficacy is but one component of Albert Bandura's (see Figure 2) social cognitive theory (SCT). SCT emphasised self-referential thinking and described people as self-organising, proactive and self-regulating: this embodied perspective was the antithesis of the behaviourist views around at the time, which described people as reactionary organisms that were shaped (often solely) by their environment. According to Bandura, behaviour is often predicted by the beliefs in one's capabilities, in opposition to their actual capabilities per se; these self-perceptions were termed, self-efficacy beliefs (Pajares, 1996).

Bandura (1977) proposed that those with greater self-efficacy ultimately performed better within an academic setting. In school, the beliefs that a student holds about their academic capabilities determines their consequential actions. Their academic performance is therefore, largely the result of what students believe they have attained, are attaining, and can attain in the future. These self-beliefs mediate the relationship between cognitive engagement and achievement. Therefore, strengthening these beliefs increases the use of cognitive strategies, which in turn lead to improved performance. The theory of self-efficacy may help to explain why academic performance can markedly differ between students of similar ability (Pajares, 1996).

Self-efficacy beliefs are typically derived from four primary sources:

  1. Mastery experience: The impact of one’s (actual) performance over time. Repeated success strengthens efficacy beliefs and will prime the learning environment for further success; it will also buffer the impact of occasional failures (Bandura, 1977).
  2. Observation of others: learning through observation. One's ability is construed via comparisons with other students (social comparison) or the demonstrator (modelling).
  3. Verbal persuasion: forms of persuasion from both peers and mentors.
  4. Physiological and affective states: a state of being that results from (physiological and emotional) feedback that is experienced whilst performing assigned tasks.

Of these sources, mastery experience is the most influential on self-efficacy beliefs (Blackmore et al., 2021)

Other belief constructsEdit

Positive self-belief is a central tenet to educational psychology. Self-efficacy is but one construct that depicts facets of self-belief in a widely used and theoretically rich way (Marsh et al., 2019). Self-efficacy is a motivational factor which invariably contributes to or detracts from academic achievement. It is not however, the sole influence on self-belief or competencies. Self-efficacy shares some theoretical similarities with other prominent belief systems or learning constructs (see Table 1).

Table 1. Prominent belief or learning constructs.
Construct Definition . Shared relationship (with self-efficacy) . Primary Differences (to self-efficacy) .


Self-efficacy (SE) relates to a person’s innate beliefs about their skills and abilities. SE is developed through reciprocal causation: where one’s skill in a task and self-efficacy influences the other to further success through action. (Blackmore et al., 2021). SE is a strong predictor of success in a particular domain (Kirschner & Hendrick, 2020). Mastery drives a more specific process; success is realised through a defined path (i.e., mastery), which in turn steers effort and motivation.
Implicit Theories of Intelligence (Mindset Theory)


The mindset theory organises variables - goals, attributions, helplessness and effort beliefs - into the one meaning system. People will operate from either belief system: a growth or fixed mindset. The former proposes that intelligence is malleable and one's abilities can be expanded through the learning process; the latter sees intelligence as innate and trait-like, they'll express (but not expand) their abilities (Yaeger & Dweck, 2020) A growth mindset / high SE engages effort, persistence and strategising to

A growth mindset / high SE will rise to learning challenges; a fixed mindset / low SE will avoid them.

A 'growth mindset' will refer to one's intelligence / capabilities in a broad manner (vs. SE's domain specificity).

A growth mindset drives a broader process; competency improvements are realised through (generalised) effort.

Academic Self-concept (ASC)


The integrated ASC model systematically explains the relations between ASC and academic achievement across:
  1. domains - my accomplishments in one domain are relative to accomplishments in another
  2. time - my current accomplishments are relative to my past accomplishments
  3. school peer group - my accomplishments are relative to those of my peer group (Marsh et al., 2017)
Both constructs derive input from:
  • perceived competence
  • mastery experience

Though academic self-concept draws more from social and self-comparison in comparison to self-efficacy.

  • Self-concept judgements involve an evaluation of (one's) skills and abilities. Whereas, efficacy judgements involve an evaluation of what one believes they can do (with their skills and abilities).
  • Self-concept beliefs tend to be retrospective, stable over time, and resistant to change. Whereas SE beliefs are largely prospective, durable, dynamic and malleable (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003).
Academic Self-regulation

- based on Zimmerman's model.

Self- regulated learning (SRL) is a self-controlled cycle which consists of three components:
  1. cognition - the skills and habits that are necessary to encode, memorize, and recall information as well as think critically.
  2. metacognition - the skills that enable learners to understand and monitor their cognitive processes. This is a critical component as this self-awareness promotes monitoring and self-correction in the learning process.
  3. motivation - the beliefs and attitudes that enact the development and use of (the cognitive and metacognitive) skills.
SE plays a mediative role. Students with stronger academic SE make better use of cognitive strategies and self-regulatory practices through use of metacognitive strategies (Pajeras, 1996). Self-efficacy is a sub-component of SRL's motivational component (i.e., self-efficacy is part of the self-regulated learning cycle).


Poppy avoids challenging math tasks in the classroom: a lack in experiences means she cannot see the progression of her performance over time. She doesn't therefore, believe she can do 'hard math'. Which model describes Poppy's beliefs?

High Self-efficacy belief
A growth mindset
Low Self-efficacy belief
A fixed mindset


Figure 3. Variables that effect Academic Achievement

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Self-efficacy and academic self-regulationEdit

Honicke and Broadbent’s (2016) meta-analysis found a medium size correlation [direction?] between self-efficacy and academic success and saw that goal orientation and effort regulation are additional variables that both moderate and mediate the relationship of self-efficacy and academic achievement. 

Lin et al. (2021) also found that students with higher self-efficacy and self-regulation strategies had better academic performance; their results show that students' self-efficacy was positively associated with self-regulation and negatively associated with a lack of regulation. The authors suggest that a reciprocal relation may exist between academic self-efficacy and the use of self-regulation strategies: the higher the belief, the more likely a student is to use self-regulation strategies.

These learning process strategies could include goal setting: [grammar?] as self-efficacy and goal setting have been found to mediate the other and collectively enhance academic performance (Alhadabi & Karpinski, 2020; Richardson et al., 2012).

Richardson et al. (2012) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on 7,167 articles. In this, they differentiate between two forms of self-efficacy:

  • performance self-efficacy (familiar difficulties will see students formulate expectations from past specific performances) [for example?] and;
  • academic self-efficacy (unfamiliar challenges will see students will anticipate future performance from generalised representations) [for example?]

Twelve motivational constructs were tested and the largest effect size was found between achievement and performance self-efficacy; grade goals and academic self-efficacy followed. Effort regulation had the strongest effect of the self-regulatory capacities tested.[explain?]

Self-efficacy has a direct effectEdit

Palos et al. (2019) found that self-efficacy may directly affect academic achievement irrespective any adjoining self-regulatory process.

[Provide more detail]

Self-efficacy both supports and protects achievementEdit

Self-efficacy may both support and protect achievement: it increases the positive effect of mastery and performance-approach goals and reduces the negative effect of avoidance goals on academic performance (Alhadabi & Karpinski, 2020).

[Provide more detail]

Self-efficacy and other non-cognitive learning constructsEdit

Emotional Engagement - Olivier et al. (2019) conducted a longitudinal study that tested the developmental pathway between self-efficacy and academic achievement in math for 4th to 6th grade students. Their results support the proposition that self-efficacy and achievement has a bi-directional influence on the other. In this case, the effect size of prior self-efficacy on later achievement was larger, and the students' positive perception of their efficacy in math was sustained and had a long-lasting effect on their achievement. In short, the developmental pathway showed that self-efficacy is the juncture between math achievement and emotional engagement, with the latter being both an indicator of student wellbeing and an intrinsic value of learning.

Emotional Regulation - Supervia and Robres' (2021) study adds to the abundance of literature which shows strong correlations between emotional regulation and self-efficacy, but which also indicates that academic self-efficacy acts as a mediating variable between emotional regulation and academic achievement. In fact, their study supported the proposition that students who score at above average levels in academic self-efficacy and emotional regulation will by default achieve academically in an above average range.


Jesse has started a part-time job whilst studying at University. His manager asks him to update the companies[grammar?] website. Jesse has never worked with web design before but he looks forward to the opportunity. He has designed webpages whilst studying and believes he has the aptitude for web design work. Which type of self-efficacy is Jesse's confidence drawn from?

Performance self-efficacy
Academic self-efficacy

Research indicates that self-efficacy beliefs can have a direct effect on academic achievement. However, achievement can also be raised through the combined effects of self-efficacy and which other non-cognitive constructs?

Goal Setting
Effort regulation
Emotional regulation
All of the above

How can academic self-efficacy be fostered?Edit

Case Study

Poppy completes her first semester at studying Psychology at University. She had heard about self-efficacy when learning some foundational research and academic skills. Poppy has the goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. Upon nearly failing her first statistics unit she realised her low confidence and self-belief were letting her down. She wanted therefore, to learn more about self-efficacy in the hope that she could raise her grades.

Metacognition and calibrationEdit

Adolescence brings about fundamental changes in meta-cognition, independent thought, introspection and sense of self (Costa & Faria, 2018). These changes can be leveraged to facilitate academic growth and success. A high sense of self-efficacy, however, is not alone enough to guarantee success. There is the requirement that one's expectations should resemble their actual performance. The term 'calibration' describes this metacognitive judgement which involves the accurate reconciliation of self-judgement to performance (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2008).

Calibration is critical to the self-evaluation process, so that achievable and realistic goals are set: students who inflate their abilities may attempt challenging tasks and fail, whilst those who discount themselves avoid such challenges; this is detrimental to motivation and opportunity respectively. Accurate confidence judgements [grammar?] therefore, enable a student to adapt their learning strategies; this guides them towards success (Blackmore et al. 2021). Miscalibrations can be identified via:

  • post-test instruction - with a subject matter expert, enables a student to recognise and reconcile their prior poor performance. This is especially relevant to lower-quartile achievers and may mitigate the Dunning-Kruger effect[explain?]
  • well developed self-regulatory skills - which generates self-feedback or instigates action on external feedback; this strengthens the foundation of accurate self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is a malleable process and metacognition can drive change. For instance, Blackmore et al. (2021) relay that lower performing students employ metacognitive strategies less frequently than their higher performing counterparts. Thus, some metacognitive strategies could include:

  • effective 'top-down' processing - where one explicitly discounts their previous convictions and instead, derives their beliefs solely from past performance
  • exercises that promote monitoring skills - as these in turn, enhance mastery.


Feedback may inform introspection and initiate action and is [grammar?] therefore, an important component of metacognitive training. Accordingly, Blackmore et al. (2021) states that feedback should be pitched in a realistic (but still encouraging) and palatable (not overly critical) manner, as students will adapt their self-efficacy to correlate with feedback when they consider the critique to be reasonable.


There is [grammar?] however, little research which attempts to deliberately and directly manipulate student self-efficacy. Instead, interventions that target self-regulation have been shown to increase self-efficacy accuracy and moderate self-efficacy beliefs, which in turn improves academic achievement. Such interventions include:

  • Ramdass & Zimmerman's (2008) math-classroom study. The environment of which: [grammar?] seeded the belief that achievement was a reasonable expectation for all, incorporated accuracy training into the curriculum, included strategy training (and tied its value to performance in obvious and tangible ways), provided frequent evaluative opportunities, and; [grammar?] buffered the impact of avoidance behaviours by targeting low-self efficacy beliefs.
  • Colthorpe et al's. (2019) study, which used meta-learning assessment tasks like: articulating goal, motivation and reliant study strategies (during the forethought phase), reconciling such strategies to one's ongoing results (as per the performance phase), before; [grammar?] reflecting and then updating one's goals, motivation and strategies before the study period's end (the self-reflection phase)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Note that these three phases form part of Zimmerman's self-regulation model.[explain?].
  • Zimmerman et al's. (2011) intervention, which coached low-performing math students in self-assessment and reflection techniques so that their task-specific self-efficacy beliefs were better calibrated to their (eventual) results. This saw the class pass-rate significantly improve.

Case study

Poppy knew that her modest beliefs around her math and reasoning skills meant she wasn’t confident in her research and statistics units. As an avoidance measure, she’d only skimmed these topics in class. She realised she’d denied herself the learning opportunities, which would serve as evidence, so that she could formulate more accurate self-beliefs. Poppy therefore, wanted to examine her pre-existing efficacy beliefs.

After reading up on self-efficacy, Poppy looked to employ the following learning strategies:

➣ She broke up tasks within each subject to allow for a realistic sense of achievement as she moved between goals.

➣ She set effective and realistic goals that required perseverance but were small enough to promote progress.

➣ She examined (teacher provided) feedback, reconciled this and adjusted her self-evaluations based on this

➣ She took on the suggestions for improvement that were gained via feedback in order to hone her skills

➣ She was proactive and quickly tackled learning setbacks whilst remaining focused on her goals

➣ She looked for opportunities - like joining a study group or subscribing to an online learning tool (e.g. Quizlet) - where she could practice her new skills; this promoted mastery experiences.

➣ She looked for instances in the classroom (like tutorials) where she could succeed on a day to day basis. It wasn’t just her grades that underwrote her (new) efficacy beliefs.

It took a lot of perseverance, effort and consistent hard-work but Poppy gained new research skills and proficiencies. She was able to adjust her self-beliefs and now thinks she has high but realistic self-efficacy within this particular domain. She is motivated to tackle her next statistics unit and is confident that her grades will continue to improve.


Academic success is not achieved through self-belief alone. A student cannot exceed their capability just by believing in themselves. Self-efficacy beliefs form the internal rules (intrinsic motivation) which help determine the effort, persistence and perseverance that's shown by a student (Maddux & Kleiman, 2017). It is this motivation, that alongside effective cognitive strategies, factor into academic success. Self-efficacy is developed through reciprocal causation, where one builds skills in a particular domain, which increases their self-efficacy; this growing efficacy then motivates further endeavour. This virtuous circle invariably leads to further success as a student who has high self-efficacy will: set loftier goals, employ effective self-regulatory strategies, monitor their work more efficiently and evaluate their performance more accurately (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2008).

Self-efficacy is not the sole non-cognitive influence or belief system that affects academic success. Positive self-belief is a central tenet to educational psychology and self-efficacy is but one construct that sways one's self-belief. There is some overlap between self-efficacy and other constructs like mindset theory and academic self-concept, as they share theoretical similarities such as approach and avoidance tendencies, and; perceived competence and mastery experience respectively. And whilst self-efficacy is in itself a self-contained construct, it is also but one component of the self-regulated learning process.

An extensive amount of research shows that there is a significant relationship between self-efficacy and academic achievement. Whilst there are indications that self-efficacy can have a direct effect on academic success, it is more often the case that self-efficacy works alongside other mediating variables such as goal setting, goal orientation, grade goals and other self-regulated learning components. Research also shows that self-efficacy both supports and protects achievement via promoting mastery and performance-approach goals and reducing the negative effect of avoidance goals. Lastly, self-efficacy can act as a mediating variable between emotional engagement and emotional regulation, with the former being particularly crucial as it is an indicator of student wellbeing and, is also an intrinsic value of learning.

It is important that a student's (performance) expectations should resemble their actual performance; this is termed 'calibration'. Calibration is critical to the self-evaluation process, so that a student may successfully adapt their learning strategies as needed; this facilitates academic progress and success. Post-test instruction can help a student to identify gaps between their expectation and performance. Effective self-regulatory skills which generate self-feedback or instigate action on external feedback are important, as self-evaluation and constructive monitoring strengthens the foundation of accurate self-efficacy.

There is little research that looks to deliberately and directly manipulate student self-efficacy. Instead, interventions that target self-regulation have proved effective in increasing self-efficacy accuracy, and moderating self-efficacy beliefs; this in turn, improves academic achievement. Students therefore, should undertake metacognitive processes which inform introspection, as self-efficacy is a malleable process and metacognition can drive change. Practical steps can include realistic goal setting, reconciling (self and other) feedback, initiating approach (rather than avoidance) strategies, proactively seeking out mastery experiences, and noticing (smaller but consistent) evidentiary instances of academic wins (or success).

See alsoEdit


Alhadabi, A., & Karpinski, A.C. (2020). Grit, self-efficacy, achievement orientation goals, and academic performance in university students. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 519-535.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.

Blackmore, C., Vitali, J., Ainscough, L., Langfield, T., & Colthorpe, K. (2021). A Review of Self-Regulated Learning and Self-Efficacy: The Key to Tertiary Transition in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). International Journal of Higher Education 10(3).

Bong, M., & Skaalvik, E.M. (2003) Academic Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy: How Different Are They Really? Educational Psychology Review, 15(1), 1-40.

Caviglia-Harris, J., & Maier, K. (2020). It's not all in their heads: the differing role of cognitive factors and non-cognitive traits in undergraduate success. Education Economics, 28(3), 245-262.

Costa, A., & Faria, L. (2018). Implicit theories of intelligence and academic achievement: a meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:829.

Greco, A., Annovazzi, C., Palena, N., Camussi, E., Rossi, G., & Steca, P. (2022). Self-efficacy beliefs of university students: examining factor validity and measurement invariance of the new academic self-efficacy scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 12: 498824. http://doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.498824

Han, Z (2021). Exploring the Conceptual Constructs of Learners’ Goal Commitment, Grit, and Self-Efficacy. Frontiers in Education, 12:783400. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.783400

Honicke, T., & Broadbent, J. (2016). The relation of academic self-efficacy to university student academic performance: A systematic review. Educational Research Review, 17, 63-84.

Kirschner, P. A., & Hendrick, C. (2020). How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice. Routledge.

Lin, S., Mastrokoukou, S., Longobardi, C., Bozzato, P., Gastaldi, F., G., M., & Berchiatti, M. (2022). Students' transition into higher education: The role of self-efficacy, regulation strategies, and academic achievements. Higher Educ Quarterly, 00:1–17.

Maddux, J. E., & Kleiman, E. (2017). Self-efficacy. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers.

Marsh, H. W., Pekrun, R., Murayama, K., Arens, A. K., Parker, P. D., Guo, J. & Dicke, T. (2017). An Integrated Model of Academic Self-Concept Development: Academic Self-Concept, Grades, Test Scores, and Tracking Over 6 Years. Developmental Psychology, 54(2), 263–280.

Marsh, H.W., Pekrun, R., Parker, P.D., Murayama, K., Guo, J., Dicke, T., & Arens, A.K. (2019). The murky distinction between self-concept and self-efficacy: beware of lurking jingle-jangle fallacies. Journal of Educational Psychology 11(2), 331-353.

Olivier, E., Archambault, I., De Clercq, M., & Galand, B. (2019). Student self-efficacy, classroom engagement, and academic achievement: comparing three theoretical frameworks. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 48, 326–340.

Palos, R., Magurean, S., & Petrovici, M. (2019). Self-regulated learning and academic performance - the mediating role of students’ achievement goals. Revista de cercetare și intervenție socială, 67, 234-249.

Pajares, F (1996). Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 543-578.

Ramdass, D., & Zimmerman, B. (2008). Effects of Self- Correction Strategy Training on Middle School Students’ Self-Efficacy, Self- Evaluation, and Mathematics Division Learning. Journal of Advance Academics, 20(1), 18-41.

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.

Supervía, P. U., & Robres, A.Q. (2021). Emotional Regulation and Academic Performance in the Academic Context: The Mediating Role of Self-Efficacy in Secondary Education Students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 5715.

Yaeger, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2020). What can be learned from growth mindset controversies? American Psychologist, 75(9), 1269-1284.

Zimmerman, B. J., Moylan, A., Hudesman, J., White, N. & Flugman, B. (2011). Enhancing self-reflection and mathematics achievement of at-risk urban technical college students. Psychological Test and Assessment Modelling, 53(1), 141-160.