When academic achievement (also) reflects personality: Using the Personality-Achievement-Saturation-Hypothesis (PASH) to explain differential associations between achievement measures and personality traits

Nicholas Hübner*, Marion Spengler, Benjamin Nagengast, Lex Borghans, Trudie Schils, Ulrich Trautwein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Students’ academic achievement is a key predictor of various life outcomes. The two most prominent measures of academic achievement are grades and standardized test scores. Both measures are commonly used during selection processes as well as for educational monitoring and accountability. Research has suggested that grades and test scores are strongly related to students’ characteristics (e.g., cognitive abilities) but might differentially reflect personality. In order to better explain differential personality-achievement associations, it is important to move beyond the dichotomy of grades versus test scores. To this end, we propose the personality-achievement saturation hypothesis (PASH), which suggests that associations between personality and achievement vary, depending on four main features of the achievement measure used: level of standardization, relevance for the student, curricular validity, and instructional sensitivity. The PASH suggests that conscientiousness should typically be more strongly associated with grade point average, followed by course grades and final examination grades, whereas openness should be more strongly associated with test scores. We used data from three large-scale studies (total N = 14,953) and aggregated our findings. In line with the PASH, conscientiousness was most strongly related to grades, which have lower standardization, moderate to high relevance, high curricular-validity, and high instructional sensitivity, whereas it had substantially weaker associations with more highly standardized, less curriculum-valid, and less instructionally sensitive measures. In addition, openness was most strongly related to highly standardized, less relevant, less curriculum-valid, and less instructionally sensitive measures in English. Implications for the ways in which achievement measures can be used are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages64
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021


  • academic achievement
  • personality traits
  • test scores
  • grades
  • GPA
  • PASH

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