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Examining STEM Diagnostic Exam Scores and Self-efficacy as Predictors of Three-year STEM Psychological and Career Outcomes

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Data-informed Approaches to Understanding Student Experiences and Outcomes

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Brittany C. Bradford Rice University

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Brittany C. Bradford is a fifth-year graduate student in industrial and organizational psychology at Rice University, working with Dr. Margaret Beier. She graduated from Texas Christian University with a B.B.A. degree in finance and from Rice University with an M.A. in Psychological Sciences. Her research interests include education, learning, and motivation.

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Margaret E. Beier Rice University

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Margaret Beier is a Professor of Psychology at Rice University in Houston, TX. She received her B.A. from Colby College, and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Margaret’s research examines the predictors of performance in educational and occupational settings. In particular, she is interested in the effects of examining gender, age, ability, personality, motivation, and self-regulation on a range of outcomes. She is a member of the American Educational Research Association and a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists.

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Megan McSpedon Rice University

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Megan McSpedon is the Associate Director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program. She has been with the program since it was founded in 2012. Megan received a B.A. in English from Rice University.

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Michael Wolf Rice University

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Michael Wolf is Professor of Mathematics at Rice University as well as Faculty Director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program, an initiative he co-founded in 2012. The Rice Emerging Scholars program is a comprehensive 2-4 year program that begins the summer before matriculation for a group of matriculating Rice students whose preparation for STEM is weaker than those of their peers.

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In this research-based paper, we explore the relationships among Rice University STEM students’ high school preparation, psychological characteristics, and career aspirations. Although greater high school preparation in STEM coursework predicts higher STEM retention and performance in college, objective academic preparation and college performance do not fully explain STEM retention decisions, and the students who leave STEM are often not the lowest-performing students. Certain psychosocial experiences may also influence students’ STEM decisions.

We explored the predictive validity of 1) a STEM diagnostic exam as an objective measure of high school science and math preparation and 2) self-efficacy as a psychological measure on long-term (three years later) STEM career aspirations and STEM identity of underprepared Rice STEM students. University administrators use diagnostic exam scores (along with other evidence of high school underpreparation) to identify students who might benefit from additional support.

Using linear regression to explore the link between diagnostic exam scores and self-efficacy, exam scores predicted self-efficacy a semester after students’ first semester in college; exam scores were also marginally correlated with self-efficacy three years later. Early STEM career aspirations predicted later career aspirations, accounting for 21.3% of the variance of career outcome expectations three years later (β=.462, p=.006). Scores on the math diagnostic exam accounted for an additional 10.1% of the variance in students’ three-year STEM career aspirations (p=.041). Self-efficacy after students’ first semester did not predict future STEM aspirations. Early STEM identity explained 28.8% of the variance in three-year STEM identity (p=.001). Math diagnostic exam scores accounted for only marginal incremental variance after STEM identity, and self-efficacy after students’ first semester did not predict three-year STEM aspirations.

Overall, we found that the diagnostic exam provided incremental predictive validity in STEM career aspirations after students’ sixth semester of college, indicating that early STEM preparation has long-lasting ramifications for students’ STEM career intentions. Our next steps include examining whether students’ diagnostic exam scores predict STEM graduation rates and final GPAs for science and math versus engineering majors.

Bradford, B. C., & Beier, M. E., & McSpedon, M., & Wolf, M. (2020, June), Examining STEM Diagnostic Exam Scores and Self-efficacy as Predictors of Three-year STEM Psychological and Career Outcomes Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34614

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