Student Expectations

Student efforts in learning are influenced by their personal evaluations of their ability to achieve. In other words, student expectations of their potential success or failure are an important factor in determining the amount of effort they will put towards a task.  Several theories and factors influence student expectations.

Self-Efficacy: a student’s level of self-efficacy influences their decision making regarding the selection of activities and their emotional responses. When given a choice, students generally select tasks/assignments that align with their personal appraisal of their ability and likelihood of success.


A student’s sense of self-efficacy is influence to a greater extent by how they evaluate themselves rather than through objective evidence like grades.

Alternative methods of feedback, such as one-on-one meetings to discuss performance will be more valuable to students and will allow the instructor to better gauge the student’s self-efficacy.

Previous Experience: prior performance will dictate the student’s expectations on future performance on similar tasks and activities. Just as superior performance will lead to high expectations, poor performance will produce low expectations.


Assist students that have evidence of prior poor performance with framing the subsequent activities and tasks as new and different, thereby mitigating the negative experience and enhancing expectations.

Success of Others: students are observant of their peers achievements and failures and utilize these sources in evaluating, comparing, and explaining their own performance. This is especially true in settings where there are minimal opportunities for feedback and performance measurement.


Have assessment mechanisms and feedback loops in place prior to initiating an activity or task.  Be judicious in providing access to group performance information.

Feedback: feedback is crucial for student expectations but there is a key caveat. The source needs to be credible and trustworthy for the feedback to be meaningful.  This includes the perception that the source understands the students’ abilities and the contextual factors influencing their effort.


Teacher’s expectations are influential on a student’s own expectations. As such, specific and timely feedback is ideal.

Feedback about performance is often more influential than objective rewards like grades.

Attributions: attribution is instructive in explaining how students perceive their performance. Attributional factors have been characterized along three dimensions (a) the locus [whether the cause is contingent on internal or external factors], (b) the constancy [the duration and context of the attribution], and (c) responsibility [whether the cause is controlled and/or intentional]. A student’s attribution is determined by the antecedents (information gleaned from their experience) a student selects to explain their success or failure.


Individual expectations:

Expected outcomes are likely to result in stable attributions, while unexpected outcomes lead to unstable attributions.

Students who expect success and who are successful tend to attribute their performance to ability. If they fail, they attribute the outcome to factors that are consistent with high ability, such as lack of effort or unfair testing. 

Peer comparisons:

If majority of students succeed, an individual is likely to attribute success to an external cause such as an easy test, while students who fail will attribute failure to internal factors.

When one’s outcome is the same as everyone’s, the attribution is external; when it is different, the attribution is internal. 


If students’ exert a great deal of effort and fail, the tendency is to find external causes or attribute failure to lack of ability.

Motivation is higher when students succeed with reasonable effort rather than high effort.

Next we look at some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the information on student needs and expectations as it relates to student learning.

Next – Conclusions and Implications