Grading effects on student effort: the role of targets, beliefs, and explanatory styles

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


The academic standards vary from teacher to teacher. Yet, the grades that students earn in their study programs semester after semester may have a strong influence on their study effort. I build a simple two-period model to analyze how grades already earned and those expected in the future influence the students’ willingness to exert effort. In my model, each semester, a student’s utility function decreases with effort and increases with an indicator of perceived feasibility of the grade target. The utility-maximizing choice of effort in the first study period depends on the grade target, on its importance to the student, and on the student’s initial beliefs about their ability and return to effort. Actual grades however do not have to coincide with students’ initial expectations. Having received the grade from the first study period, the student attributes the unexplained part of the actual grade to either unstable or stable factors. Under the unstable attribution, the student in period 2 adjusts only their grade target. Under the stable attribution, the student additionally updates their beliefs about their ability and/or return to effort. Hence, the choice of the second- period effort depends on the first-period grade. The model predicts several kinds of grading effects on study effort. Notably, no matter whether the student attributes academic success or failure to stable or unstable factors, higher initial grades, ceteris paribus, lead to lower (or at least not higher) future effort. The only notable exception to this negative grading effect is a dramatic jump from zero to maximum effort that happens when the initial grade gets high enough to switch the student from the “giving up” regime (originating from extremely low initial grades) to the grade-minded one. The model provides practical recommendations on how to motivate students who hold various types of self-beliefs, explanatory styles, and grade targets.
Period20 Nov 2020
Event titleOnline workshop on the Economics of Education
Event typeWorkshop
LocationSt Petersburg, Russian FederationShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • academic grading
  • attribution style
  • extrinsic motivation
  • fixed mindset
  • growth mindset
  • return to effort
  • self-beliefs
  • student motivation