A Key to School Success


by Khatiti Harper, Kenyon ’17

Wouldn’t it be great if we could understand the key to success in school as a clear set of traits and better yet, as a teachable skill? Schools would start implementing techniques to make sure that all students were equipped with the ability to be successful in school and beyond. Sadly, the list of factors that play into success in school is long and complicated, as many factors are interrelated.

Though there are many things that play into school success, research has focused on how personality might have a role. Past research has shown that Conscientiousness, the trait encompassing organization, industriousness, and thoroughness (among other things), is linked to success in school. Among these studies is Ivcevic & Brackett (2014) which looks at a potential relationship between Conscientiousness and Grit (a potential facet of conscientiousness which involves persistence and consistency with tasks and interests) and school success. This study continues it’s investigation with a look at another factor, Emotional Regulation Ability (one that is more of a skill than a trait), and whether it plays a role in school success. Emotional Regulation Ability (ERA) is a both a knowledge of emotional coping strategies and an ability to solve emotional problems.

Using a sample of students from a private school in New England, the researchers measured school success through school records holding information about rule violations, academic honors, recognitions (specific to the school they focused their study on, it includes teacher, coach, and mentor ratings of student’s work ethic in different facets), and GPA. The researchers looked at these school records and administered self report surveys that measured satisfaction with school, Grit, ERA, and the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness).


Fig. 1. Model of self-regulation influences on school success. Adapted from (Ivcevic & Brackett, 2014)

Grit was measured on a scale that asked questions focused at two subtypes of grit. Part of the 12-item scale measured perseverance while the other measured consistency of interests. Emotional Regulation Ability was measured by a subscale of the Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test Youth Version (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso). The scale proposed different highly emotional situations and asked the participants to rate different emotional regulation strategies on how they might work to get the protagonist of the situation to their goals. The responses on measurement are scored by the correctness of the answer based on the scenario. Satisfaction with school and the Big Five personality traits were measured on self report inventories.

The results showed that Conscientiousness, Grit, and ERA did have statistically significant relationships with school outcomes. The researchers computed correlations between all of the school outcomes along with the three factors they were investigating. Of the three, conscientiousness was the most highly correlated with GPA, a .30 correlation. Grit had the smallest relationship with GPA, with ERA close behind conscientiousness. This is not to say that this is the most significant correlation, though. The table below shows the correlational relationships between all of the school outcomes and the three factors, and many of the relationships were significant.


Big Five traits also predicted between 8% and 20% of the variance in school outcomes. Conscientiousness predicted the most variance (20%) across all of the outcomes while grit predicted very little of extra variance across outcomes. Introversion predicted academic honors and GPA, and ERA predicted satisfaction in school.

This study did not support the idea that Grit individually impacts and improves school success. Recently, it has been a goal of some educators to teach grit as a skill by telling students to stick to tasks though they are challenging and by encouraging persistence. While these are good skills, it is possible that they are ineffective without the ability to regulate one’s negative emotions through ERA.

This study does show the strong relationships that conscientiousness and ERA have with school outcomes. Seeing that ERA is an ability, it is something that could be taught in schools to allow all students to develop an ability to regulate their emotions. Whether or not traits can be learned is still a topic that is up for debate, but the researchers of this study suggest that conscientiousness related behaviors be implemented and taught in early education to aid in the potential development of the trait.

Being successful in school is a product of multiple factors, some of which we may still be unaware of while others are completely within our control. This study (and those in the past) point to some aspects of school success Conscientiousness and Emotional Regulation Ability that we may be able to control. Educational programs moving forward should aim to foster and develop these behaviors and skills in young students.


Ivcevic, Z., & Brackett, M. (2014). Predicting school success: Comparing conscientiousness, grit, and emotional regulation ability. Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 29-36.


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