Study: Personality, not intelligence, predicts academic success

Openness to experience, conscientious show strongest link to educational achievement

Personality—not standardized test scores—predicts a student's academic success, according to a new study in the journal Learning and Individual Differences. Researchers found that more open and conscientious students fared better than those with a high IQ.

"In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart," says lead author Arthur Poropat of Australia's Griffith University. "And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard."

In lieu of crystal ball, admissions directors look to personality tests

Australian researchers compared college students' grades and test scores with measurements of their "Big Five" personality traits—agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, and conscientiousness—which were determined by personality assessments completed by the students and their friends.

The friends' assessments were almost four times more accurate than the test scores in predicting levels of academic success, while the self-assessments were about as accurate.

Of the personality traits, openness to experience and conscientiousness affected students' academic achievement the most, which is in line with prior research connecting those traits with other sorts of success. Conscientiousness is consistently found to be a predictor of success in multiple areas, while openness to experiences is linked to intellectual curiosity. 

Schools must pay more attention to students' personalities, says Poropat. "With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence for guiding both students and teachers," he says.

That, he argues, is good news, because openness and conscientiousness can be learned, whereas "there is little evidence that intelligence can be 'taught,'" (Science Daily, 12/17; Gregoire, Huffington Post, 1/5).

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