Measuring academic learning and exam self-efficacy at admission to university and its relation to first-year attrition an IRT-based multi-program validity study

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Tine Nielsen
Ida Sophie Friderichsen
Bjarke Tarpgaard Hartkopf


Self-efficacy is associated with both academic performance and attrition in higher education. Whether it is possible to measure students’ academic self-efficacy after admission and prior to commencing higher education (i.e. pre-academic self-efficacy) in a valid and reliable way has hardly been studied. Aims: 1) to evaluate the construct validity and psychometric properties of two short scales to measure Pre-Academic Learning Self-Efficacy (PAL-SE) and Pre-Academic Exam Self-Efficacy (PAE-SE) using Rasch measurement models, 2) to investigate whether pre-academic self-efficacy was associated with half-year attrition across degree programs and institutions. Data consisted of 2686 Danish students admitted to nine different university degree programs across two institutions. Item analyses showed both scales to be essentially objective and construct valid, however, all items from the PAE-SE and two from the PAL-SE were locally dependent. Differential item functioning was found for the PAL-SE  relative to degree programs. Reliability of the PAE-SE was .77, and varied for the PAL-SE  from .79 to .86 across degree programs. Targeting was good only for the PAL-SE, thus we proceeded with the PAL-SE. PAL-SE was found to be associated with half-year attrition: A difference in PAL-SE from minimum to maximum was associated with a difference in half-year attrition of approximately 7%. This association was found both in the bivariate model and in the multivariate models with control of degree program, and with control of degree program and individual covariates such as earlier educational achievement and social background variables. Results thus also indicate that PAL-SE has a causal effect on half-year attrition.

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How to Cite
Nielsen, T., Friderichsen, I. S., & Tarpgaard Hartkopf, B. (2019). Measuring academic learning and exam self-efficacy at admission to university and its relation to first-year attrition: an IRT-based multi-program validity study. Frontline Learning Research, 7(3), 91–118.
Author Biographies

Ida Sophie Friderichsen, University of Copenhagen

Department of Psychology, Research Assistant

Bjarke Tarpgaard Hartkopf, The Danish Evaluation Institute

Higher Education section, Chief consultant


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