University students who score low in honest traits expect the higher grades

New research of university students has found those students who score low in honesty are the same students who consistently expect higher grades, regardless of their efforts.

‘Academic entitlement’ is when a student believes they are inherently deserving of certain privileges in an academic setting.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the more honest students had a lower sense of ‘academic entitlement’.

The research team also found that personality traits seem to be more important drivers of academic entitlement than the influence of the students’ families.

Australian Catholic University Senior Researcher Douglas Russell, during a teaching position at Middlesex University in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), joined other researchers to look at the attitudes of 170 first-year and second-year undergraduate students at the private university.

Published in the Social Psychology of Education journal the research paper My grade, my right found that having low levels of honesty and humility were the strongest predictors of a high sense of academic entitlement.

“For academics working in a tertiary institution, the following scenario is probably all too familiar – some undergraduate students feel they deserve good grades without much effort and blame their failure on their lecturers,” Mr Russell said. 

“Educators across the globe are confronted with these attitudes in universities. They know all too well about the growing number of students who begin their tertiary studies with a sense of academic entitlement, entitled expectations, not taking personal responsibility and unrealistic expectations.”

The former university lecturer added the higher education sector had seen funding decreases, staff numbers decline, and international student enrolments increase in the context of fee payment for tertiary education.

“A consumer-based model lends itself to commercial demands such as high expectations of satisfaction and service delivery,” Mr Russell said.

“Unfortunately, these expectations jeopardise intellectual engagement and active educational involvement which are the hallmarks of academic excellence.

“What was surprising though, was that any relationship between family influence such as parental expectations and academic entitlement is invalidated when you consider the student’s personality. This was a new finding.”

The research, using the six factor HEXACO personality model, found that academic

entitlement has a bearing on a student’s estimation of grades.

Of the 170 students in the study, 92 were asked to predict their own grades for two different kinds of assignments: a laboratory report (structured), and an in-class exam or essay (open-ended).

Students with higher entitled expectations tended to overestimate their grades with the exam and essay. Interestingly, students did not overestimate or underestimate their grades for laboratory reports.

“The overestimation of grades in essays and exams could be related to the fact these modes of assessment have fewer guidelines than laboratory reports”, Mr Russell said.

“In a user-pays education model, it might be more intuitive for students to hold university staff responsible for disappointing outcomes rather than taking responsibility themselves.”

Mr Russell said the findings suggest it might be helpful for teaching staff to provide student feedback more regularly and to support students in taking more ownership over their academic progress; for example, fostering self-reflection and encouraging students to give each other feedback.

Other teaching strategies could include communicating what is expected of assignments using a range of explanations to decrease feelings of uncertainty in students.

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