Predicting Academic Success: General Intelligence, "Big Five" Personality Traits, and Work Drive

By Ridgell, Susan D.; Lounsbury, John W. | College Student Journal, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Predicting Academic Success: General Intelligence, "Big Five" Personality Traits, and Work Drive


Ridgell, Susan D., Lounsbury, John W., College Student Journal


General intelligence, Big Five personality traits, and the construct Work Drive were studied in relation to two measures of collegiate academic performance: a single course grade received by undergraduate students in an introductory psychology course, and self-reported GPA. General intelligence and Work Drive were found to be significantly positively related to both course grade and GPA, while one Big Five trait (Emotional Stability) was related to course grade only. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis revealed the incremental validity of Work Drive beyond Emotional Stability and over and above general intelligence: Work Drive accounted for 7% and 14% of unique course grade and GPA variance, respectively, when Emotional Stability was entered last; and Work Drive accounted for 6% and 13% of unique course grade and GPA variance, respectively, when Work Drive was entered last. In both cases, Emotional Stability did not provide significant unique variance. Findings are presented and discussed in the context of examining how cognitive and non-cognitive variables predict academic performance, and in terms of implications for using course grade versus GPA as a criterion for collegiate academic performance.

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During the last several decades, researchers have investigated relationships between numerous predictors and academic performance. Mouw and Khanna (1993) indicate that the prediction of academic success in college has become "a large scale operation." Important within the educational system, similar predictions are important in industrial research, as recent studies indicate the predictive ability of grades vis-a-vis job performance (Roth, BeVier, Switzer, & Schippman, 1996). Many employers screen job applicants based on a minimum grade point average threshold, or consider grades as a heavily weighted criterion when analyzing resumes (Reilly & Warech, 1993).

Academic success predictors usually consist of cognitive measures, pertaining to mental ability or intelligence; and non-cognitive measures, especially personality traits. Results, while occasionally varied, have continued to support the conclusion that both cognitive ability factors and certain personality traits consistently predict academic performance (Dyer, 1987; Hoschl & Kozeny, 1997; Mount & Barrick, 1991; Mouw & Khanna, 1993; Paunonem, Rush, & King, 1994; Rau & Durand, 2000; Rothstein, Paunonem, Rush, & King, 1994; Wolfe & Johnson, 1995). Most researchers have studied high school grades, ACT scores, and SAT scores as cognitive predictors (Chemers, 2001; Dyer, 1987). "Academic success" has generally been operationalized as collegiate cumulative grade-point-average (GPA), averaged across courses. However, as discussed by Lounsbury, Sundstrom, Loveland, and Gibson (2003), there are several concerns about these measures. The Educational Testing Service does not claim that it measures general intelligence, but that the SAT measures verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. In addition, cumulative GPA incorporates variability among instructors and courses as uncontrolled sources of variance. Lounsbury et al. (ibid) contend that the grade in a single course would avoid such variability and might serve as a better validity criterion for research on cognitive and personality predictors. Their research, however, measured only course grade as a criterion and did not compare predictor validities with GPA. This formed a main rationale for the present study.

Before turning to the specific objectives of the current investigation, the role of personality measures in research on academic performance will be considered. Barrick and Mount's (1991) seminal work established a taxonomy of personality traits known as the "Big Five": Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. These factors are often studied in relation to various outcomes, and research during the past decade has found several Big Five predictors of academic success: Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (Fritzche, McIntire, & Yost, 2002); Conscientiousness (Busato, Prins, Elshout, & Hamaker, 2000; Musgrave-Marquart, Bromley, & Dalley, 1997; Paunonen & Ashton, 2001) and Openness (Paunonen & Ashton, 2001).

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