The 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. Ac- tual 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 stu- dent 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 pre- dicts 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 no- table 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.
Period9 Jul 2020
Event titleYSI + Cognitive Economics Society conference
Event typeConference
LocationNew York, United States, New YorkShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


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