Motivational factors, learning strategies and resource management as predictors of course grades.
Academic achievement (Analysis)
College students (Education)
College students (Analysis)
Lynch, Douglas J.
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Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: June, 2006 Source Volume: 40 Source Issue: 2
Product Code: E197500 Students, College
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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This study investigated the association between motivational factors and course grades for freshman and upper level college students (measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionaire, MSLQ). Self-efficacy and effort regulation were strong predictors for both groups. Instrinsic motivation was associated with course grades, but not extrinsic. The study suggests the MSLQ may be useful for both university faculty and staff to enhance student diagnosis and learning effectiveness.


Faculty and staff need diagnostic information to suggest what might be done to improve college level learning. A theoretically valid assessment instrument that both predicts course grades and informs academic intervention would be most useful.

This study investigates the relationship between responses to the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) and course grades. The MSLQ is designed to be sensitive to relevant motivational and study strategies factors. The motivational model adopted by the current study suggests that motivation to learn is influenced by values, expectancy, and affect factors (Pintrich, 1988).

The values identified in this research are intrinsic and extrinsic goal orientation, and task value. Intrinsically oriented students view learning as worthwhile to satisfy their own curiosity and thirst for knowledge, whereas extrinsically oriented students work to satisfy external goals (such as good grades or to please others). Task value is the extent to which a student finds a course useful, valuable, or interesting.

The expectancy factor refers to student perception such as control orientation in which they believe they have control over their learning strategies and learning environment. Self-efficacy refers to student's self-confidence that they can master the course demands, while expectancy for success indicates the extent to which they believe they will reach their self-defined course performance. Previous research by Pintrich, McKeachie, and Smith (1989) found that control, self-efficacy, and high scores in expectancy for success were associated with greater cognitive engagement and course success.

The MSLQ also assesses test anxiety. Test anxiety has been shown to be negatively related to academic performance and effects future learning beliefs and behavior.

Learning strategies investigated here derive from an extensive body of cognitive research indicating that cognitive processing affects the quality of student learning. Learning strategies include rehearsal, elaboration, organization, critical thinking, and metacognitive-regulation.

Students must use different strategies for different learning demands. Rehearsal is a learning strategy effective for learning discrete information. However, rehearsal does not provide the depth of knowledge to understand relationships between ideas within an academic field. This requires deeper processing using cognitive strategies that attend to the structure of knowledge within a field.

Elaboration helps students develop this richer knowledge base. Paraphrasing, summarizing, creating analogies, and generative note taking are examples of elaborative strategies.

Academic disciplines consist of a body of knowledge organized in a particular way. Becoming proficient within a major therefore requires an organization cognitive strategy such as clustering, outlining, and distinguishing between the main idea and supporting ideas in a text or lecture.

As used in this study, Critical thinking is "the extent to which students report applying previous knowledge to new situations in order to solve problems, reach decisions, or make critical evaluations with respect to standards of excellence." (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991, p. 22).

Metacognitive-regulation investigated in this study refers to metacognitive processing, a student's awareness, knowledge, and control of their learning. A large body of previous research has demonstrated that learning is enhanced when students are aware of their learning strategies and alter those strategies to fit task demands. (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999; Schneider & Pressley, 1997, Weinstein & Mayer, 1986).

Additional learning strategies identified and assessed in the current study are four resource management factors. Effective students must be able to regulate and monitor their time and study environment. They must allocate appropriate time to meet their learning needs and utilize an environment that facilitates concentration and productive work. Students must choose to expend effort to master the course goals. Research suggests that peer learning, or collaborating with one's peers often helps students learn. Finally, when students are having difficulty, they must be willing to seek help from both peers and faculty.

Materials. The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) is a self-report instrument that has been used extensively in previous research that investigated college student motivation and learning strategies (McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith, 1986; Pintrich, 1988, 1989; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; and Pintrich and DeGroot, 1990). The questionnaire consists of 81 items, 31 that assess motivational beliefs, 31 items focused upon learning strategies and motivation, and 19 items concerning resource management. Students respond to a seven-point scale with the extremes marked by "not at all true of me" or "very true of me". Examples of items are: "In a class like this, I prefer course material that really challenges me so that I can learn new things." "When I become confused about something for this class, I go back and try to figure it out." "I make simple charts, diagrams, or tables to help me organize course material." All of the items direct the respondent to the course in which they receive the survey, rather than their motivation and study strategies across several courses.

Although the items are mixed as the student responds to the survey, the MSLQ is scored with separate scales, each sensitive to different aspects of motivation, learning strategies or resource management. The Motivational scales are Intrinsic Goal Orientation, Extrinsic Goal Orientation, Task Value, Control of Learning Beliefs, Self-Efficacy for Learning and Performance, and Test Anxiety. Learning Strategies scales are Rehearsal, Elaboration, Organization, Critical Thinking, and Metacognitive Self-Regulation. Resource Management scales are Time and Study Environment, Effort Regulation, Peer Learning and Help Seeking.

Through the National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning (NCRIPTAL) at the University of Michigan, Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, and McKeachie (1991) describe prior research establishing the reliability and validity of the MSLQ.

The study was conducted in the fall, with 501 freshman and upper class undergraduates from a mid-Atlantic private university. Approximately half of the subjects (N=264, Males= 127; Females=137) responded to the MSLQ in their freshman seminar courses. The freshman seminar courses addressed a variety of academic topics and skills representing all curricular areas in the university. These courses were designed to share a few common learning objectives. This student sample included 28 different courses taught by 26 professors. Undergraduates identified as upper level students were from 300 level courses representing a wide range of curricular subjects. There were 237 upper level students, balanced by gender (Males= 109, Females= 127).

The MSLQ was administered near the mid-point of the semester after students had received considerable feedback about their course performance.

The association between MSLQ scores and semester course grades is reported in Table 1 separated by freshman, upper level and all participants. For freshman self-efficacy was the largest correlation, slightly larger than effort regulation. Effort regulation, self-efficacy, and time/study regulation were the three largest correlations for upper level participants. Test anxiety scores were negatively correlated for upper level students, but were not significantly correlated for freshman. Extrinsic goal motivation was not significantly correlated at any level.

A stepwise multiple regression analysis was conducted to identify the combinations of variables that may predict course grades. Using the data from all students, effort, self-efficacy, and external goal orientation yielded a significant R=. 41, F 3,418= 27.851, p = .000. Upper level students grades were predicted with effort and self-efficacy R=. 434 (F 2, 169 = 19.637 p < .000), whereas freshman self-efficacy and extrinsic goal orientation scores predicted R=. 405 (F 3, 246 = 16.066 p < .000).


Self-efficacy was a powerful predictor for both freshman and upper class students. Self-efficacy is a combination of one's ability to do the task plus the degree of confidence one has in the task. This is shown by some of the items on the MSLQ: "I'm certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in readings for this course." "Considering the difficulty of this course, the teacher, and my skills, I think I will do well in this class."

Comparing upper class students with freshman yields some interesting differences. The combination of self-efficacy and extrinsic goal orientation predicted grades for freshman, whereas upper class students' scores were associated with effort and self-efficacy. First semester freshman would more likely follow the learning patterns they acquired in high school, that is, with significant external controls from parents and teachers. As courses become more challenging, and students naturally become more independent from their parents, extrinsic goals may become less salient. Also, with more advanced courses, the upper class students must have discovered that effort pays off.

As a new experience quite different from high school, freshman are unlikely to be fully aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses. Some students may underestimate their academic proficiency because they have had one "bad experience" in secondary school. They may also vastly overestimate their ease of learning because in the past, they were successful as passive learners. This study suggests that both faculty and university staff should spend time with the students to help them become more aware of both their beliefs as well as their learning and study strategies.

While this study has provided some valuable information regarding motivational beliefs, learning strategies and course grades, additional research is needed. The MSLQ administered in the current study asked the students to respond with reference to their current course. A significant question is: How do they respond when they are asked to assess their motivation and study strategies for their most chalenging course? The analysis of this issue may be particularly informative for those factors such as Peer Learning and Seeking Help. Perhaps these factors are more closely related to course grades when students face challenges. The issue of the association between motivation, learning strategies and course grades is currently being investigated by the author.


Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (1999). How people learn: Brain mind experience and school. Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press.

Pintrich, P. R. (1988). A process-oriented view of student motivation and cognition. In J. S. Stark and L. A. Mets (eds). Improving teaching and learning through research. New Directions for Institutional Research, no. 57. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pintrich, P. R. (1989). The dynamic interplay of student motivation and cognition in the college classroom. In C. Ames & M. Maehr (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement: Motivation-enhancing environments (Vol. 6, pp. 117-160). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Pintrich, P. R., & DeGroot, E. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33-40.

Pintrich, P. R., & Garcia, T. (1991). Student goal orientation and self-regulation in the college classroom. In M. Maehr & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement: Goals and self-regulator processes, (Vol. 7). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Pintrich, P. R., McKeachie, W. J., and Smith, D. (1989) The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire. Ann Arbor: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, University of Michigan.

Schneider, W., & Pressley, M. (1997). Memory development between two and twenty. Mahwah, N J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Weinstein, C. E., & Mayer, R. (1986). The teaching of learning strategies. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 315-327). New York: Macmillan.


Wilkes University
Table 1
Correlations between Motivational. Learning Strategies and
Resource Management and
Course Grades by Level

MSLQ Subscale                Freshman   Upper Level     All

Internal Goal Orientation     .16 **     .26 **        .18 **
Extrinsic Goal Orientation    .02        .01           .02
Task Value                    .14 *      .21 *         .13 *
Control Orientation           .13 *      .24 **        .14 **
Self-Efficacy                 .33 **     .32 **        .31 **
Test Anxiety                 -.06       -.20 **       -.12 **
Rehearsal                    -.01        .06          -.01
Elaboration                   .12        .14           .09
Organization                  .05        .10           .06
Critical Thinking            -.02        .10           .04
Metacognitive Regulation      .13 *      .16 *         .13 **
Time/Study Regulation         .19 **     .27 **        .22 **
Effort Regulation             .29 **     .39 **        .33 **
Peer Learning                 .02        .06           .07
Seeking Help                  .11       -.00           .06

N, Freshman 264
N, Upper Level 237

* p <.05 ** p <.01
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