European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 847–872 | Cite as

Identifying science students at risk in the first year of higher education: the incremental value of non-cognitive variables in predicting early academic achievement

  • Jonas WillemsEmail author
  • Liesje Coertjens
  • Bart Tambuyzer
  • Vincent Donche


Science students’ study success rates in the first year of higher education (FYHE) are problematic. Although a considerable amount of previous research has been carried out to investigate the determinants of students’ academic achievement in FYHE, there has been little discussion about the incremental value of non-cognitive factors over and above cognitive determinants in the prediction of early (after the first semester of FYHE) academic achievement in a science educational context. Furthermore, the complex nature of the relationships between determinants of academic achievement is frequently neglected. An investigation that addresses these gaps is important to provide the insights necessary to identify at-risk science students early in their academic career. Therefore, the main aim of this research was to examine the incremental value of non-cognitive variables (processing strategies, regulation strategies, academic motivation, self-concept, self-efficacy) in predicting students’ early academic achievement in a science FYHE context, over and above domain-specific prior knowledge (cognitive) and after controlling for gender, age and prior education. Hereto, path-analyses were used on the data of 781 first-year students within a faculty of science of a Belgian university college in the academic year 2016–2017. Results show that cognitive variables and pre-entry characteristics predict early academic achievement. However, after controlling for these characteristics, evidence for the assumption that non-cognitive variables are determinants of early academic achievement in science education contexts could not be found in this study. Implications for theory and research are discussed.


Higher education First-year students Cognitive predictors Non-cognitive predictors Early academic achievement 



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Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Training and Education Sciences, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.Psychological Sciences Research InstituteUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  3. 3.Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary SciencesUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Training and Education Sciences, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

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