If you just believe in yourself, will you make the grades?

Findings from Next Steps have shown that young people of all academic abilities are more likely to do better in their GCSE exams if they have confidence in their school work.

What we asked you

When Next Steps first began, we asked your parents for permission to add information from your school records to the information collected through the survey. This includes your GCSE results.

When you were 14, we asked you a series of questions about school, including whether you were getting good marks for your work, and how good you thought you were at school work.

We also collected information about other things that might affect your self-belief, such as the type of school you attended, your family’s social circumstances, and your parents’ level of education.

 What the researchers found

Young people who had the greatest belief in their academic ability were 18 per cent more likely to achieve five good GCSEs (grade C or above), compared to their peers with less confidence.

Among the most academically able pupils, those who believed in themselves did better than their equally-able but less confident peers – the difference was equivalent to achieving seven As rather than seven Bs. Self-belief also appeared to benefit the less-able pupils – those with greater self-belief had scores equivalent to four As rather than four Bs.

Girls tended to report lower academic self-belief than boys, and white pupils were, on average, less confident than their ethnic minority peers. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to have confidence in their school work, compared to their more advantaged peers, and those with parents educated up to GCSE level tended to be less assured in their academic abilities than those with more educated parents.

Why this research matters

Policymakers and academics have expressed concerns about the difference in GCSE performance between disadvantaged students and their peers, due to the important role these exams play in setting young people’s future academic and career paths.

The study’s authors suggested that focusing on increasing the academic self-belief of pupils as part of their learning might also increase their performance at GCSEs.

 Find out more about this research

‘Does academic self-concept drive academic achievement?’ by Kristine Hansen and Morag Henderson was published in the Oxford Review of Education in April 2019.