Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gendered Differences in College Academic Performance: Motivation

English: Shows early psychological student mot...
Shows early psychological student motivation theorists (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Sam J Kotera

It might not be a surprise to many of us that women are outperforming men in higher education today.

Having just graduated this past spring, I have basically spent the last five years in a college setting, and the research I was reading today about gendered differences in achievement surprised me little.

What are some differences that might account for this achievement gap between the sexes? An article entitled "Male Academic Performance in College: The Possible Role of Study Strategies" tried to find reasons for diverging achievement.

Researchers Marrs and Sigler utilized a few different standardized assessments that focus on the following areas of academic achievement:

- Attitude
- Motivation
- Time Management
- Anxiety
- Concentration
- Information Processing
- Selecting Main Ideas
- Study Aids
- Self-testing
- Test Strategies

Their research looked at 650 incoming freshmen into college - 341 of which were attending community colleges (118 male, 223 female), 208 enrolled in an introductory Psychology course at a university (109 male, 99 female), and 101 students involved in an athletic training program at their university (47 male, 54, female).

The results of Marrs and Sigler's study may help identify some of the causal factors for women edging out men in college achievement.

Now, keep in mind, these assessments are self-reported, where students evaluate themselves in these areas based on specific questions that focus on ten categories. These questions require a response from the range of "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." Are you with me?

Good. Let's keep going. From the research Marrs and Sigler conducted, women report a fairly substantial edge over their male counterparts in motivation, self-testing, use of study aids, and time management skills.

In fact, based on the results of the Learning and Study Skills Inventory (LASSI) - the assessment that has students rank themselves in those above ten areas - males weren't outperforming women in any of the ten categories. Men did outrank women in some of the areas, but the differences were marginal enough to be statistically insignificant. Now, let's take a deeper look into one of the aspects of gendered difference: motivation.

If you're a nerd like myself, you've probably read more than one text relating to student achievement, learning, and/or education. I read an interesting article by Walter Chen that puts a focus on motivation, and, more specifically, what "keeps us going" in our busy lives. Quoting Chen, here is his big three areas that motivate us all:

"Autonomy: Our desire to direct our own lives. In short: 'You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of your way!'
Mastery: Our urge to get better at stuff.
Purpose: The feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world." (Chen).

Chen's article has a lot more interesting tid-bits, and makes a pretty compelling argument against certain sides of intrinsic motivation. But the point is that, if the above three ideas - autonomy, mastery, and purpose - are central to motivation, why are men lacking?

An interesting question, and I hope to hear some interesting hypotheses in the comments (let's keep the comments clean of blatant sexism here, ladies and gents). Thanks!


Chen, Walter. "The Science Behind What Motivates Us to Get Up For Work Everyday"
Marrs, Heath and Ellen A. Sigler. "Male Academic Performance in College: The Possible Role of Study Strategies", Psychology of Men & Masculinity (2012) Vol. 13 # 2, pp. 227-241.

Looking for other study skills or time management tips? Check out for other strategies from Sam, so you spend less time in the library and more time living!
Also Check out the GainGrades Youtube channel:

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