Dynamic Self-Efficacy and Academic Performance: Insights into University Student Experience Across a University Semester

Year: 2021

Author: Yun, Grace

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Self-efficacy, one’s belief in their ability to achieve desired outcomes, is a noteworthy factor in understanding academic success. Conceptually, self-efficacy is a dynamic construct specific to the domain, situation or activity. While Social Cognitive Theory predicts higher self-efficacy will result in high performance, via proactive and reactive control, limited research has investigated the dynamic nature of academic self-efficacy. Thus, the current study aimed to determine the degree to which self-efficacy varies across a university semester, how such variability may relate to performance, and how goals and study strategies underlie the relationship between academic self-efficacy and academic performance. Using a longitudinal design, first-year undergraduate students completed three distinct phases: (1) an online questionnaire at the beginning of semester (n = 375), (2) nine weekly diaries throughout the semester (n = 118), and (3) an online questionnaire at the end of semester (n = 125). To measure academic self-efficacy, the Self-Efficacy for Learning and Performance subscale of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire was used, while key study strategies were measured using the Rehearsal, Elaboration, and Organisation subscales. Academic performance was measured using the final grades achieved by students in a single unit of study. Findings were threefold. First, the study found significant variability in self-efficacy across the semester, supporting the first hypothesis, with self-efficacy scores declining from the start of semester until mid-way through, at which point they plateaued and remained fairly stable. Second, it was found that less variability in self-efficacy across the semester was associated with higher performance. Finally, a moderated mediation analysis showed that greater discrepancy between expected and desired final grades predicted higher performance through the use of elaboration, but only when academic self-efficacy was low. The findings examining the manifestation of self-efficacy within a higher education context across a term could inform education practices and interventions to optimise academic performance.