Tag Archives: bias

Illusions of a good grade: Effort or luck?

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Submitted by Melanie Paige Moore

Article Reference

Buckelew, S. P., Byrd, N., Key, C. W., Thornton, J., Merwin, M. M. (2013). Illusions of a good grade: Effort or luck?. Teaching of Psychology, 40, 134-138.

Article DOI


Summary of Article

Previous research has demonstrated that students exhibit the self-enhancement bias by overestimating end of course grade performance, on average of about one letter grade. Self enhancement beliefs may be maladaptive and result in poor academic outcomes for students with unrealistic expectations. Students with high grade point averages are better than their counterparts at predicting final grades. Attributions about grades are important in that students who make internal attributions (e.g, individual effort) are better at predicting their grades than students who make external attributions (e.g, luck).  Students with high achievement motivation attribute success to effort, whereas those with low achievement motivation attribute failure to lack of ability.

This study tested the relationship between accuracy of grade predictions, the self enhancement bias, and student attributions about grade performance.  Grade predictions were accessed during two points in the course semester, the second week of the semester (Time 1) and the final week (Time 2). Students also completed a 4-item questionnaire on attributions and gave permission to have their ACT obtained from the university records office.  Results revealed that student did in fact demonstrate the self-enhancement bias by overestimating their grades, especially at Time 1. ACT scores were significantly correlated with predicted grades at Time 1 and actual attained grades. However students with low ACT scores were less accurate in their grade predictions, demonstrated high self enhancement bias, and made greater external attributions about grades.

Discussion Questions

  1. Self-enhancement bias was defined in this study as the discrepancy between anticipated grades and actual grades. The article listed reasons as to why this discrepancy exists (e.g., attributions), what are some other reasons students overestimate their expected end of course grade?
  2. The self-serving bias is the tendency to make external attributions about negative outcomes. What type of strategies would you implement in class to reduce the self-serving bias? How might you structure or change your lectures, syllabus, classroom environment, etc?
  3. For those who teach or TA, have you had experiences with students where you felt the self-enhancement bias or self-serving bias had occurred? For those who don’t teach or TA, have you had any personal experiences in which you witnessed the self-enhancement bias or self-serving bias in an academic environment?