Predicting Final Grades in STEM Courses: A Path Analysis of Academic Motivation and Course-related Behavior Using Self-determination Theory

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Learning and Motivation






Within self-determination theory, a considerable amount of previous research has shown that autonomous motivation is associated with higher levels of academic achievement and wellness among students. However, it is notable that few studies have included large samples of undergraduates who are enrolled in science courses. Moreover, to our knowledge no previous research has investigated the associations among autonomous and controlled motivations, course attendance, time spent studying, perceived course difficulty, and final course grades simultaneously. The current study was designed to begin to fill this gap in the literature. In the fall (33 course sections) and spring (29 course sections) semesters, undergraduate students (N = 1284) who were enrolled in general chemistry, organic chemistry, and human anatomy and physiology courses responded to a 24-item survey at the beginning (Time 1) and at the end (Time 2) of the semester. The results revealed considerable stability in motivation over time as well as strong association between autonomous and controlled motivations at each time point. Autonomous motivation at Time 2 predicted higher levels of time spent studying and final course grades, and lower levels of perceived course difficulty. Controlled motivation at Time 2 predicted higher levels of course attendance, time spent studying, and perceived course difficulty, and lower levels of final course grades. These findings indicate that both autonomous and controlled motivations contribute to final course grades (albeit in opposite directions) and highlight the importance of creating need-supportive educational climates that facilitate the cultivation of autonomous motivation.


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