Motivational Beliefs and Learning Strategies as Predictors of Academic Performance in College Physics

By Lynch, Douglas J. | College Student Journal, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Motivational Beliefs and Learning Strategies as Predictors of Academic Performance in College Physics


Lynch, Douglas J., College Student Journal


College physics semester and lab grades were associated with motivational beliefs and learning strategies as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Notable correlations with semester grades were found for self-efficacy, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and valuing the task. The learning strategy of elaboration was also correlated with final grades. Even though male and female final grades were not statistically different, the study found stark gender differences. There was large correlation between male self-efficacy scores and final grades. Task value and rehearsal were correlated for males but not females. Extrinsic goal orientation and critical thinking was correlated for females but not males. Females had significantly higher physics lab scores than males. Male metacognitive and the time-study environment scores were significantly correlated with lab scores. In contrast, extrinsic goal orientation, self-efficacy, elaboration and effort were correlated for females. An ANOVA demonstrated gender differences in self-efficacy, critical thinking and test anxiety. Male self-efficacy scores were significantly higher than female scores and critical thinking. Female test anxiety scores were significantly higher than male scores. The study suggests that physics faculty should create an instructional environment to enhance female self-efficacy, attend to possible perceptional differences between males and females regarding their purpose for studying physics. Faculty should communicate with students and set assignments in the course to foster success. Faculty involvement should encourage students to monitor their own goal performance.

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The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) is based upon well-founded theory. This theory is supported by a significant line of validity evidence that provides guidance for both students and faculty (McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith, 1986; Pintrich, & Garcia, 1991; and Pintrich and DeGroot, 1990). The questionnaire assesses motivational factors, learning strategies and how students manage the learning context or resources.

The items comprising the MSLQ are validated by theory emphasizing that motivation to learn is effected by values, expectancy, and affect factors (Pintrich, 1998). Each of these factors have associated scales comprising sets of individual items within the MSLQ. (The scale names presented in italics are identified in the result section.) The values scales identify intrinsic or extrinsic goal orientation and task value. Intrinsically motivated learning generates from interest, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Extrinsically motivated learning is focused upon satisfying others, or grades. The extent to which a student finds a course valuable or useful is task value.

Expectancy refers to the student's perception of the extent to which they believe they have control over their learning environment. Self-efficacy refers to a student's self-confidence that they can master academic demands coupled with expectancy for success that they will reach the course learning demands.

The MSLQ also assesses test anxiety. High levels of test anxiety may be negatively related to academic performance (Hong, 1999; Williams, 1992).

To maximize learning, students in science courses should match their study strategies to the required learning objective. Learning strategies assessed by the MSLQ are rehearsal, elaboration, organization, critical thinking, and metacognitive regulation. Rehearsal is useful for memorizing discrete information. Elaboration helps students develop their own knowledge base through paraphrasing, summarizing, creating analogies, and generative note taking. Organization is helpful by identifying the unique structure of knowledge within the science discipline. Several types of organization study strategies are clustering, outlining, and distinguishing between main ideas and supportive ideas. …

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