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Motivation, test scores and economic success

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Author Info

  • Carmit Segal

Abstract

This paper argues that low-stakes test scores, available in surveys, may be partially determined by test-taking motivation, which is associated with personality traits but not with cognitive ability. Therefore, such test score distributions may not be informative regarding cognitive ability distributions. Moreover, correlations, found in survey data, between high test scores and economic success may be partially caused by favorable personality traits. To demonstrate these points, I use the coding speed test that was administered without incentives to National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY) participants. I suggest that due to its simplicity its scores may especially depend on individuals' test-taking motivation. I show that controlling for conventional measures of cognitive skills, the coding speed scores are correlated with future earnings of male NLSY participants. Moreover, the coding speed scores of highly motivated, though less educated, population (potential enlists to the armed forces) are higher than NLSY participants' scores. I then use controlled experiments to show that when no performance-based incentives are provided, participants' characteristics, but not their cognitive skills, affect effort invested in the coding speed test. Thus, participants with the same ability (measured by their scores on an incentivized test) have significantly different scores on tests without performance- based incentives.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1124.

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Date of creation: Nov 2006
Date of revision: Oct 2008
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1124

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Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

Related research

Keywords: Test Scores; Motivation; Cognitive Skills; Non-Cognitive Skills; Earnings;

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References

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  1. Roland Benabou & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520, 07.
  2. Daniel J. Benjamin & Sebastian A. Brown & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2006. "Who is “Behavioral”? Cognitive Ability and Anomalous Preferences," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000001334, David K. Levine.
  3. Angrist, Joshua & Lavy, Victor, 2004. "The Effect of High Stakes High School Achievement Awards: Evidence from a School-Centered Randomized Trial," IZA Discussion Papers 1146, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Borghans Lex & Meijers Huub & Weel Bas ter, 2006. "The Role of Noncognitive Skills in Explaining Cognitive Test Scores," ROA Research Memorandum 006, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
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