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

2 Citations (Web of Science)


Students' academic achievement is a key predictor of various life outcomes and is commonly used for selection as well as for educational monitoring and accountability. With regard to achievement indicators, a differentiation has traditionally been drawn between grades and standardized tests. There is initial, albeit inconclusive, evidence that these indicators might differentially reflect students' personality as encapsulated in the Big Five personality traits as well as measures of cognitive abilities. In this article, we propose the personality-achievement saturation hypothesis (PASH) as an overarching model that describes the association between achievement indicators and personality. The PASH suggests that the differentiation between grades and tests is too simplistic and that associations between personality and achievement instead vary across five main features of the achievement measures that are used: level of standardization, relevance for the student, curricular validity, instructional sensitivity, and cognitive ability saturation. On the basis of findings from prior studies, we focused in particular on conscientiousness and openness to test the PASH. We used data from three large-scale studies (total N = 14,953) and aggregated our findings across these studies. In line with the PASH, the Big Five trait of conscientiousness was most strongly related to measures that were less standardized and less saturated with cognitive ability but higher on curriculum validity, relevance, and instructional sensitivity. In addition, openness was most strongly related to measures that were higher on standardization and cognitive ability saturation but lower on relevance, curriculum validity, and instructional sensitivity in English.

Educational Impact and Implications Statement Achievement measures are of central importance for student selection, employment, and educational policy, and according to a widely shared belief, they involve intellectual abilities as well as aspects of personality such as effort and persistence. Up to now, prior research has remained rather inconclusive about why achievement measures vary in their degree of personality saturation. In this study, we developed and successfully tested a new framework (the PASH), which categorizes achievement measures along five main features and thereby contributes to a better explanation of differential associations between personality traits and different achievement measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-345
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date12 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • GPA
  • PASH
  • academic achievement
  • grades
  • personality traits
  • test scores
  • scholastic achievement
  • BIG 5

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