A Study on Achievement Goals Determining Learning Strategies of Undergraduate College Students

Article excerpt


This study examined the students' learning strategies in relation to achievement goals. Two hundred and eight (208) female undergraduate college students completed the Achievement Goal Questionnaire and Cognitive/Metacognitive and Motivational Scalse. Findings of this study presented overall empirical support for the achievement goal theory in the context of learning strategies. Findings revealed that mastery-approach/avoidance goals were the positive significant predictors of deep processing, persistence, and effort. Performanceapproach goals were found as positive predictor of surface processing, persistence, and effort while performance avoidance goals predicted the surface processing and disorganization.

Keywords: Achievement Goals, Study Strategies, Motivation, College Students.

Sarwat Sultan*

Irshad Hussain**


Learning and achievement are interrealed constructs in education and training. Students leam to achive certain goals specified to a particular level of education. In other words goals are standards to meaure the learning of students at a specified stage which are expected to be met by them. These goals also inspire students by enhancing their learning to achieve them. The phenomenon may be labeled as achievement motivation. The achievement motivation appears to accomplish the constmct of achievement goals. Therefore, achievement goals are considered to be the motives making students leam for achieving them properly. These are motivational forces behind learning of students. Typically, the achievement goals are behaviors related to attaining class evel competencies (Elliot, 1997) which students are desired to acquire. Simialrly, Dweck (1986, & 1999) indicated two types of goals consisting on mastery goals and performance goals. Urdan (1997) further explained that the former goals focus on acquisition of competence through skills and mastery in the learned task; whereas the later (i.e. the performance) goals characterize as accomplishment of competencies for the purpose of social comparisons and for avoiding the negative feedback from others.

Elliot & Church (1997) stated that mastery and performance goals are distinctive in terms of approach and avoidance motivation. The mastery-approach goals refer to the most positive perspective and focus on developing competence to be skillful and learned. Students aiming at mastery-approach goals are desired to leam new skills and enhance their competencies with understanding; whereas, the mastery-avoidance goals refer to avoiding the failure to learn with understanding (Ames, 1992). Performance-approach goals are focused on relative competencies in certain context. The students having learnt performance-approach goals acquire competency for social comparisons and exhibit their abilities, while performance-avoidance goals reflect avoidance to the negative assessment about their competencies by others. Therefore, students work and study to prove them better others while in comparison with them by avoiding a perception of being incompetent (Urdan & Maehr, 1995). Hence the learning strategies assumed by the students vary in relation to their cognitive/ metacognitive and motivational aspects. Nolen (1996) found these strategies to be significant for realizing achievement goals intended by students. However, Entwistle (1988) asserted three important strategies in cognitive and /or metacognitive domain including deep processing, surface processing, and disorganization.

Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie (1993) defined the three strategies individually. The deep processing strategy grounds in critical thinking for justifying reliability of knowledge. It accumulates new knowledge blending with earlier information. Similarly, the surface processing embraces rote learning of information by incorporating recalling of learning materials. However, the disorganization deals with difficulties of students which they face in developing and processing integrated methods of learning.

The study conducted by Miller, Greene, Motalvo, Ravindran, & Nichole (1996) revealed mastery goals to be significant predictors of deep processing for knowledge building. Similarly, Anderman, Griesinger, & Westerfield, (1998) asserted that deep processing strategy was used by those students who focussd on mastery goals of their learning. Also Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Ravindran, and Nichols (1996) found mastery goals as significant predictors for persistence and effort for learning. In the continuation, the study of Bouffard, Boisvert, Vezeau, & Larouche, (1995) depicted that students focusing to achieving mastery goals, tend to work persistently in learning difficult courses. They work hard (put hard efforts) to leam with understanding the disorganized concepts.In this regard Elliot (1997) considered mastery goals central to motivation associated with achievement.

The above discussion establishes significant relationship of mastery goals with deep processing, persistence and efforts of students for learning. However, surface processing may not be overlooked as rote memorization helps in mastering the skills and comprehensive learning. But Entwistle (1990) agued surface processing to be dissimilar to mastery goals as it involved an inactive and extrinsic mode of learning. Likewise, mastery goals are also unrelated to disorganization rather negative predictors as students face problems to establish organized patterns of their study (Elliot & Church, 1997). The research conducted by Greene & Miller (1996) investigated relationship between performance goals and deep and/ or surface processing by postulating that performance goals were positive predictors of surface processing and unrelated to deep processing. Bouffard, Boisvert, Vezeau, & Larouche (1995) asserted that relationship of performance goals with persistence and efforts was ill-defined due to different patterns of performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals.

The main objective of the present study was to explore the different achievement goals as predicting factors for learning strategies. Therefore, keeping in view the above empirical considerations, it was hypothesized that mastery goals will negatively predict the surface processing and disorganization. However, the main hypothesis related to the prediction of students' learning strategies by their orientations of achievement goals was established on the basis of literature.



A total of 208 undergraduate college students participated voluntarily in this study. The mean age of participants was 18.39 (2.04) years old with a range of 17-21. Utilizing nonprobability approach, convenience sampling technique was used to select the sample. All the participants were of different socio-economic class.


The following instruments were used to achieve the objectives of present study.

Achievement Goal Scale

Achievement Goals Scale (Elliot & MC Gregor, 2001) is 7- point self-reported scale designed to measure the four types of achievement goals. It is a 12 Item scale. The scale provides a score for each of the following four kinds of achievement goals. To obtain the score against each kind of goal, responses are added on items given below. Split-half reliability yielded a significant coefficient of 0.69.

Mastery_ Approach goal (item 3, 7 and 11)

Mastery - Avoidance goals (item 2, 6 and 10)

Performance - Approach goals (item 1, 5 and 9)

Performance - Avoidance goals (item 4, 8 and 12)

Cognitive/metacognitive and Motivational Study Strategies

Cognitive/metacognitive and Motivational Study Strategies Scale has been derived from the pool of revised items from the measure by Pintrich et al. (1993). It has 21 items with a 7-point likert scale indicating 1 as not at all true of me and 7 as very true of me. The scale measures deep processing (5 items), surface processing (5 items), disorganization (5 items), persistence (4 items), and effort (2 items). Split-half reliability yielded a significant co-efficient of 0.71.


The data was collected during regularly classes in college after obtaining permission and consent from principal and students. The questionnaires were distributed in intact classes by the first author. Item were read aloud one by one to the students. Students were instructed to answer every item as truthfully as they could. They were also allowed to ask questions if they had difficulty understanding items in the questionnaire. They were also assured about the confidentiality of their responses, and were informed that their teachers would not have access to their responses.

After obtaining the data, the whole information was statistically analyzed using SPSS-17.


Using SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences), t-test was used to investigate the significance of differences in the achievement Goals between scores of students of annual and semester systems.

Table-1 shows the mean, SD, and correlations for the scores of achievement goals and study strategies. Results indicate that mastery-approach/avoidance goals are positively correlated with deep processing, persistence, and effort. Performance-approach goal is found to be positively related with surface processing, persistence, and effort, while performance-avoidance goal is positively related to surface processing and disorganization.

Table-2 indicates the standard regression coefficients from multiple regression analyses using the basic regression model comprising mastery-approach goals, mastery-avoidance goal, performance-approach goal, and performance-avoidance goal. Regression analyses demonstrated that the regression of deep processing (Adjusted R2 = .32, p < 0.01) indicated positive significant association with mastery goal. Deep processing was found to be positively predicted by mastery-approach goals F(l, 206) = 37.12, p < 0.01 (ß = .41) and mastery-avoidance goal F(l, 206) = 31.51, p < 0.01 (ß = .38). Surface processing was positively predicted by performance-approach goals F(l, 206) = 29.61, p < 0.01 (ß = .47) and performance-avoidance goal F(l, 206) = 25.81, p < 0.01 (ß = .39). Disorganization was positively predicted by performance-avoidance goals F(l, 206) = 22.09, p < 0.05 (ß = .24). Persistence was found positively predicted by masteryapproach goals F(l, 206) = 39.62, p < 0.01 (ß = .43), mastery-avoidance goal F(l, 206) = 34.77, p < 0.01 (ß = .40), and performance-approach goals F(l, 206) = 33.69, p < 0.01 (ß = .42). Study strategy of effort was also positively predicted by mastery-approach goals F(l, 206) = 41.12, p < 0.01 (ß = .47), mastery-avoidance goal F(l, 206) = 44.13, p < 0.01 (ß = .48), and performance-approach goals F(l, 206) = 37.19, p < 0.01 (ß = .46).


Considering the achievement goal model, this paper has presented an investigation into the relationship between students' achievement goals orientations and their learning strategies. After literature review, it was hypothesized that mastery-approach/avoidance goals will predict the deep processing, persistence and effort. The results of the present study are highly consistent with the hypotheses. Results showed the strong relationship of mastery goals with deep processing, persistence, and effort (Table-1). Mastery-approach and mastery-avoidance goals were found positive strong predictors of strategies of deep processing, persistence, and effort. These findings are also in tune with the findings of study by Anderman and Young (1994) who reported that scholars who set their goals to become master and competent in the course learn the course content with deep understanding. They study in the way that they don't leave any point unclear. They work hard consistently to understand fully the difficult and arduous subject (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992) .They effort until get the satisfactory answers to confusing questions (Meece & Holt, 1993).

Central to achievement goal theory, performance-approach goals are viewed similar to mastery-approach/avoidance goals because both are based on the need for achievement but at the same time are viewed as different from mastery goals because performance-approach goals are focused on external outcomes of achievements, and are associated with fear of failure (Elliot, 1997). Keeping this link of performance-approach goal with mastery goals, it was hypothesized that performance-approach goals will be the predictor of persistent and effortful study behavior. The results are also in favor of hypothesis and showed that performance-approach goal was positive predictor of persistency and effort. It implies that students who have performance-approach goals follow the persistency and effortful behavior while studying.

It was also assumed that performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals will be related to surface processing and will significantly predict the surface processing during studying. Findings of present research support the hypothesis and postulated that surface processing was positively predicted by performance-approach and performanceavoidance goals. Due to the inherent nature of performance goals, it was anticipated that students focusing on performance goals learn the learning material through surface processing. These findings are in line with the work of Harackiewicz, Barron, Carter, Tauer, & Elliot (1999). Authors discussed the findings in the context that performance goals are related to surface processing but are unrelated to deep processing.

Due to the unavailability of the literature about disorganization, no anticipation was made in this regard. However results suggested the positive relationship of disorganization with performance-avoidance goals while null relationship with mastery goals. Overall findings revealed that mastery goals are related with deep processing, persistence, and effort behaviors during studying while performance goals explain the factors of surface processing and disorganization in learning process. Grounded in the fact that both mastery and performance goals are based on need for achievement thus are significant positive predictors of persistent and effortful behavior patterns of learning.

Limitations & Suggestions

Having carried out this study, it is stated with a fair degree of confidence that achievement goals predict the learning strategies. However, based on this data findings cannot be generalized as the data was obtained only from female college students. This research is needed to be replicated to strengthen the findings of present study with male students as well. Present study has examined only the role of achievement goals. Given the multiplicity of agents that may influence the study strategies, it is obvious that future researches are invited to incorporate several other variables as predictors of study strategies like perceived competence, perceived support, test anxiety, and locus of control.



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[Author Affiliation]

* Department of Applied Psychology, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan

** Department of Education, The Islamia University of Bahawalpur


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