The effects of initial grades on further student effort: a lab experiment

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


Previous research has shown that the academic grading can in different circumstances be motivating, neutral or demotivating to the students. I study the motivational effect of grades received in the first study period. I consider the effect of the initial grade on further study effort as operating through two different channels: First, the grades can inform the students about their productivity, thus, allowing them to adjust their study effort. Second, when reaching a particular GPA target is important to the students, the initial grades may bring them either closer to it, or away from it, resulting in different effort adjustments needed to reach the GPA target. Both of these channels can result in significant effects of initial grades on further effort. I design a lab experiment to estimate the effects of the grades that university students get in study period 1 on their effort in period 2. I impose an absolute grading standard, and offer monetary rewards to students who achieve a certain grade threshold. The subjects’ grades in period 1 are randomly and blindly assigned to be rounded either upward or downward. The results indicate that the students are mostly insensitive to the marginal shifts of the grading scale, however the categorical meaning of grades seems to matter: failing the first exam can be motivating for many, whereas scoring above average can lead to a reduction in further effort. I discuss the findings in light of existing empirical evidence and economic theories of academic standards.
Period1 Jul 2020
Event titleWarsaw International Economic Meeting
Event typeConference
LocationWarsaw, PolandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • academic grading
  • extrinsic motivation
  • grading effects
  • higher education
  • intrinsic motivation
  • return to effort
  • student effort
  • university students