Approaches to learning, cognitive style, and motivation as predictors of academic performance

Åge Diseth and Øyvind Martinsen

University of Bergen

Beyond the impact of cognitive abilities, several human characteristics have been held to influence learning and academic achievement. Among such characteristics, motives, cognitive styles, and approaches to learning can be seen as particularly important. However, the relationship between these variables, and the structural relationship between these variables and achievement has hitherto not been heavily emphasised in research. The present research has the intention to investigate the relationship between these variables more in detail.

A total of 259 undergraduate psychology and sociology students at the University of Bergen in Norway participated in this research by completing a questionnaire including the AE-scale (Assimilator - Explorer style), the ASSIST (Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students), the AMS-scale (Achievement Motivation Scale) and the NFC-scale (Need For Cognition). In addition, examination results were collected as a measurement of academic performance.


The results showed associations between explorer style, deep approach, the achievement motive for success and high need for cognition. Conversely, relations between assimilator style, surface approach, the achievement motive to avoid failure and low NFC were observed.

Approaches to learning were the best predictor of academic performance with strategic approach being positively and surface approach negatively related to high performance. No correlation between deep approach and performance were observed. Only minor relations between the additional variables (AE, AMS and NFC) were found.

Theoretical implications as well as implications for future educational research are discussed.

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