Who gets the ‘A’s?
© 12 Apr 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
other posts


Are confidence and grades correlated?


Suppose on the first day of a college 101 class (in any topic) I were to ask the students to line up with the students who expect to earn an A with little effort on one end and the students who expect to work like a slave just to avoid failing on the other. I’d then note down the ranking of each student in this line and file it away for later use. At the end of the semester, once all the grades were in, I’d pull out that list and compare final class ranking to the initial ordering.

Would I find a correlation? Would it be positive or negative? How strong would it be?

At the University of Virginia, a few years ago we compared the grades in CS2 based on which exposure to CS1 the students had had. This study is mentioned in passing in DOI: 10.1145/1953163.1953217 We found that the students from the CS1 section for experienced students performed worse than those from the CS1 section for inexperienced students. The two sections are taught differently (and both differently than the general section), leading me to wonder: how much of this was due to the section and how much to the experience of the students?

My hypothesis is that if I ran my experiment I’d find that a significant portion of the students at the top of the rankings stay at the top, being the focused, adept, and/or experienced students who will do well no matter what. But these outliers aside, I expect for most of the students the pre- and post-rankings would be uncorrelated.

I don’t know why I expect this. A lot of students get roughly the same grade in every course they attend. People usually know if they are interested in a topic in advance, and if they have the background to understand it. Rationally, I can’t think of a reason it would be uncorrelated. And yet, I still feel in my gut that the correlation would be quite small.

I’m sure some teachers somewhere have done something like this, collecting some form of expectations about course performance before the class. I wonder what they found?

Looking for comments…

Loading user comment form…