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Grit, Intrinsic Motivation And Conscientiousness As Predictors Of Academic Achievement In Undergraduate Sport Studies Students

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A recurrent concern amongst institutions of higher learning is attracting and selecting the best and brightest students. No two learners are the same and they often differ across an array of factors including, age, gender, personality traits, family backgrounds (Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011), intelligence, socioeconomic status (Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011), pre–university education and training. Consequently, there exists no fixed approach for determining the characteristics of a good student. While previous studies that attempted to determine predictors of academic success have generated disparate results, one area they have commonly agreed upon is the importance of personality traits (Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011). Research into academic performance to date has demonstrated that even in situations where cognitive capability and intelligence are controlled for, the predictive capacity of personality traits of an individual remains undiminished (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011; Wagerman and Funder, 2007).

Much of the research into relationship between personality and academic outcomes has centred around the Big Five taxonomy – an empirically validated five dimensional model of human personality traits often utilised to predict success in a variety of domains (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007; Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale and Plomin, 2016). Factors included in the framework are Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, Openness and Neuroticism (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007). Despite the strength of the Big Five nomenclature, Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly (2007) contended that the list of facets is somewhat restrictive. Several studies have indicated that less expansive aspects of personality often not included in the Big Five also possess the capacity to efficaciously predict academic achievement (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007; Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale and Plomin, 2016). These can include grit (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007) and intrinsic motivation (Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar, 2005).


Conscientiousness reflects the responsibility of an individual, their capacity to systematise data, and academic tenacity (Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011). Of the five personality characteristics included in the model, conscientiousness has emerged as the most potent prognosticator of academic achievement (Hakimi, Hejazi and Lavasani, 2011; Noftle and Robins, 2007; Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale and Plomin, 2016; Wagerman and Funder, 2007).

Noftle and Robins (2007) examined the relationship between the Big Five and SAT and GPA in samples of ethnically diverse college students. The authors found that conscientiousness was the most robust predictor of GPA with correlations ranging from .18 to .26. Furthermore, conscientiousness emerged as a robust predictor of college GPA even after high school GPA and SAT scores were controlled for. Correspondingly, in a sample of 131 undergraduate students, GPA correlated strongest with conscientiousness (Wagerman and Funder, 2006). In 2007, Trapmann, Hell, Hirn and Schuler published a meta–analysis examining the association between the Big Five and academic success at the university level. As with previous studies, they found that conscientiousness correlated strongest with GPA with a mean observed correlation of .216 based on 41 studies. Several other studies reported similar results (Barchard, 2003; Furnham, Chamorro–Premuzic and McDougall, 2003; Gray and Watson, 2002).


Grit is an important non–cognitive construct in determining success in academics (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman and Kautz, 2011; Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman, and ter Weel, 2008). Grit, according to Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly (2007), is a desire and persistence for realising long–term aspirations. Grit is strongly correlated with conscientiousness (r = .77, p < .001; Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly, 2007) and lies parallel to several aspects of this variable including industriousness and perseverance (Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale and Plomin, 2016). Unlike conscientiousness, however, where the focus is on achieving transient objectives, grit places emphasis on steadfastness (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007). A person high in grit is willing to persist at a task for several years even in the presence of failure or boredom (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007; Gutman and Schoon, 2013).

Grit has been found to be related to numerous positive outcomes including completing high school and academic achievement across the lifespan of individuals (Eskreis–Winkler, Shulman, Beal and Duckworth, 2014). In 2007, Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly conducted several studies examining the relationship between grit and academic success. In a group of 139 undergraduate University of Pennsylvania students, the authors found that students higher in grit had higher GPAs (r = .25, p < .01). It is interesting to note that grit was linked to lower SAT scores (r = –.20, p < .001). Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly (2007) pointed out, however, that the average SAT scores of the students in their study was 1415 which placed them in the top 4% of students that took the exam. Whether this relationship remains in different student populations has yet to be explored. Additionally, students disclosed their GPAs and SATs simultaneously (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly, 2007). Nevertheless, they concluded that amongst comparatively intelligent students, the less smart ones tend to make up by working harder and with more tenacity than their peers.

Another study by the aforementioned authors investigated the relationship between the grit of 1218 military recruits measured on entrance at West Point, USA and their Academic GPA one year later. As in the previous study, they found that grit was associated with higher grades (r = .06, p < .05). The strength of this association here, however, was weaker than in the university undergraduates. The authors explained that the difference in correlation between this and the previous study may be a result of the fact that grit may relate stronger with current grades and a weak predictor of future achievement.

Intrinsic Motivation

Ryan and Deci (2000) described intrinsic motivation as an innate predilection of an individual to pursue challenges and novel situations with the aim of enhancing and exerting their capabilities. Intrinsic motivation is manifested in a drive to immerse oneself in activities purely for the utter gratification, challenge, enjoyment or interest (Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar, 2005), to understand and to become competent (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Research has highlighted a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and scholastic success (Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar, 2005). For example, a study by Otis, Grouzet and Pelletier (2005) found that students higher in intrinsic motivation typically completed their homework more often, possessed greater scholastic ambitions and were less likely to miss school. Lepper, Corpus and Iyengar (2005) also found a robust correlation between intrinsic and overall GPA (r = .34, p < .001) in an ethnically varied sample of third to eight grade pupils.



A convenient sample of 59 students enrolled in their first term of a Certificate, and Bachelor of Sport Studies programme at a university in Trinidad and Tobago participated in the study. All students possessed at least 5 subjects including grades I to III in English, and one Science subject including Physical Education (PE) at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam. Students were mostly from Afro-Trinidadian, Indo-Trinidadian and Mixed descent backgrounds. Thirty-six students were males, while 23 were females. Students were mainly between 18 and 30 years old including 43 between 18-20 years, and 14 between 21-29 years of age.


The researchers received permission to conduct the study via the IRB of UTT. Open access was provided to use the questionnaires in the study including IMS of SMS- II (Pelletier, Rocchi, Vallerand, Deci, and Ryan, 2013); Grit (Duckworth and Quinn, 2009); and Conscientiousness from NEO-FFI-R (McCrae and Costa, 2004). The three questionnaires together with the other survey questions were uploaded onto survey monkey (Survey Monkey Inc. 2016). One hundred and twenty students at the university were sent an email which invited them to complete the survey questions. Via Survey Monkey’s email link, students were told that participation was voluntary and that their responses would be treated with confidence. Of the 120 students emailed, 50% returned data.


Grit: Grit was assessed using Duckworth and Quinn (2009) 8-item Short Grit Scale. Grit measures the capacity to maintain effort, and to remain interested in long term goals. The scales are measured on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 = not at all like me, to 5 = very much like me (Duckwort and Quinn, 2009). Grit has shown to be predictive of Academic success at the university level .

Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic Motivation Sub-Scale (IMS) of the Sport-Motivation Scale-II (SMS-II; Pelletier, Rocchi, Vallerand, Deci and Ryan, 2013) was used to measure student’s intrinsic motivation (IM) for academic achievement. Item stems, “I study my work at college,” from SMS-II were reworded to elicit information regarding students’ academic achievement. The scale uses a 5-point Likert system 5 = strongly agree, to 1 = strongly disagree (Pelletier et al., 2013) to measure students IM. A higher score suggests higher IM for academic achievement.

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Conscientiousness: Four items of the NEO Five-Factor Inventory-Revised (NEO-FFI-R; McCrae and Costa, 2004) were used to measure students conscientiousness. Conscientiousness (CON) is a multi-disciplinary construct that measures student’s self-discipline, persistence, diligence, and dutifulness for success (Dumfart and Neubauer, 2016). Dumfart and Neubauer (2016) found it to be the best predictor in academic success across several personality and motivational constructs. Conscientiousness uses a 5-point Likert scale to measure the non-cognitive construct for example construct for example “I order in doing things;” 5 = agree; 1 = strongly disagree.

Previous Academic Achievement: Three criterion grades achieved at CSEC including Maths, English, and a Science including Physical Education acted as criterion variables in the study.

GPA at College: GPA students achieved in their first year in the Certificate and Bachelors programme at the university was used as the other criterion variable in the study.


The Statistical package for social sciences was used to analyse the data (Field, 2013). Pearson correlation coefficient was used to determine the strength of the relationship among the variables (Fields 2009). Mukaka (2012) indicated .90 to 1.00 as being a very high correlation; 50 to .70 as moderate correlation; and .00 to .30 as negligible correlation.

Multiple regression analysis (Field, 2009) was used to investigate whether IM, Grit and Conscientiousness predicted student’s academic achievements prior to entering school and college. A 2 X 2 ANOVA was used to investigate whether gender and student type interacted to cause an effect in the dependent variables in the study.


The main purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between IM (Pelletier et al. 2013); Grit (Duckworth and Quinn 2009); and Conscientiousness (McCrae and Costa 2004) and academic scores of students prior to entering university; and during their first semester of a Certificate and Bachelor in Sport Studies programme at the university. Missing values were negligible. Pairwise deletion was used to treat with the missing values (Fields 2009). No outliers were observed. The researchers tested for normality as required for parametric data (Fields 2009). The IM data were slightly skewed, Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was .17, p = .00. According to Fields (2009), slight deviation from normality doesn’t invalidate the test; therefore, no adjustments were made to the data. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for Grit and Conscientiousness was above the p > .05 threshold. Cronbach reliability statistic for IM, Conscientiousness and Grit was .54, .57 and .62 respectively. These values question the uni-dimentionality of the underlying constructs. Kline (1999) indicated that above.7 and .8 are acceptable values for Cronbach alpha reliability (Cronbach, 1951).

A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was conducted to investigate the relationship between the variables. Of the variables investigated, only Grit and Conscientiousness correlated significantly r = .387, p = .003. Grit explained 15% of the variance in conscientiousness R2 = 0.15. Even though IM motivation didn’t correlate significantly with the other two variables, its indicators interrelated more highly than Grit and Conscientiousness.

We conducted a 2 X 2 ANOVA to see if there was a significant interaction effect between gender and student types (Certificate and Undergraduate) on the non-cognitive attributes of the students; and a multiple regression analysis to determine if Grit, IM and Conscientiousness were significant predictors of the achievement variables. An inverse relationship was expected because of how Grade I and Grade V were coded in this study (Prime 2000). We found that none of the analyses rose to the significant levels; however, when we ran a simple regression analysis was run, IM was able to significantly predict CSEC science R2 = 15%; p = .00.


Understanding the relationship between Conscientiousness, Grit and Intrinsic Motivation especially in a new sample in Trinidad and Tobago is a valuable endeavour. Indeed, the results can provide information about the validity and reliability of the various constructs, and whether the constructs can predict academic achievement in a diverse population in Trinidad at the UTT. Additionally, it could assist the faculty at the UTT in student selection, and to extend the knowledge as it relates to the variables.

The researchers hypothesized that Grit and Conscientiousness would be significantly related. This result was substantiated. A major aspect of grit is the ability to persevere despite onerous challenges, and a desire to achieve long term goals (Duckworth and Quinn, 2009). Therefore, it was not surprising that students who were grittier, were also orderly and discipline, a key tenet of conscientiousness (McCrae and Costa 2004). Unexpectedly, however, the variables correlated weakly between themselves. Many reasons could be hypothesized for this poor relationship; the main being cultural understanding of the indicators, which may also be the reason that Cronbach Alpha for the variables was poorly recorded (Cronbach, 1951). Performing a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA; Decoster, 1998) could assist in destructing the stability of the indicators in the new sample in Trinidad and Tobago. Further, the results of the CFA may also explain why gender differences were not found for Conscientiousness and Grit.

In contrast to the non-significance recorded for Gender by Conscientiousness and Grit, a significant difference was found for intrinsic motivation. Females scored significantly higher than males for their academic achievement. This result may help explain why girls have been outperforming males at all levels of the education system in Trinidad and Tobago (Avery and Walker, 1993; Hyde, Fennema and Lamon, 1990; Pomerantz, Altermatt and Saxon, 2002). A point discussed in 1997 by Reddock at a conference of the Association of Caribbean Higher Education Administrators (ACHEA) in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Reddock provided statistics showing that females were outperforming their male counterparts at Tertiary Education Facilities in the Caribbean. Reddock theorized on several reasons for this trend, this study supports intrinsic motivation as a causation factor.

Admittedly, intrinsic motivation was the most stable factor in the sample surveyed in this study; it was the only predictor of previous academic achievements. Even though it predicted academic achievement, it only explained 12% in CSEC Maths, 16% in CSEC Science, and 3% in CSEC English. These results were not totally incomprehensible since using prospective personality recordings to predict past academic achievement can be confounding. A better research design would be to use proximal variables and reduce the time between achievement and personality variables. Consequently, the researchers proposed to use the said variables to predict the GPA scores of the students synchronously.


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Grit, Intrinsic Motivation And Conscientiousness As Predictors Of Academic Achievement In Undergraduate Sport Studies Students. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from
“Grit, Intrinsic Motivation And Conscientiousness As Predictors Of Academic Achievement In Undergraduate Sport Studies Students.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
Grit, Intrinsic Motivation And Conscientiousness As Predictors Of Academic Achievement In Undergraduate Sport Studies Students. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Jan. 2023].
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