The Growth Mindset theory states that how someone views their abilities impacts on how they think, feel and behave in future tasks. It is now arguably the most popular psychological theory in education. The big question has got to be, does it lead to better grades?
Growth Mindset has been associated with a range of benefits that include persistence, seeking better feedback, coping better with transitions, grit, pro-social behaviours. These are often the behaviours associated with doing well at school. But does it translate into better grades?
Growth Mindset = Better Grades
Numerous studies conducted by many different researchers have found a strong relationship between students who have a growth mindset and the grades they achieved.
Researchers Susana Claro, David Paunesku and Carol Dweck from Stamford University recently reported a large scale study of over 160,000 students) which found that growth mindset predicts grades across every socio-economic level in students in Chile. Another study by Jason Snipes, who is the Director of Alliance Research for WestEd, found that in 121, 835 pupils in America, those with lower grades were more likely to have a fixed mindset. Both of these studies are fascinating and very important as they use a very large same size (potentially adding weight to their findings).
Likewise, a different study by David Paunesku, Gregory Walton, Carissa Romero, Eric Smith, David Yeager and Carol Dweck from Stamford University and the University of Texas on 1,500 students found that combining a growth mindset and a sense of purpose intervention improved the likelihood of students completing Maths, English and Science courses and doing better along the way. This impact was most pronounced for students who were struggling and deemed most ‘at risk’
Other studies that shows a positive relationship between growth mindset and grades include this one of 373 students by Lisa Blackwell of Columbia University and Kali Trzesniewski and Carol Dweck of Stamford University. They tracked students for 2 years and found a positive relationship between mindset and academic achievement. This study of 373 students in Norway by Eric Bettinger, David Yeager, Ben Domingue, David Cooper and Mari Rege found that a positive relationship between growth mindset and grades, as did this study on 312 female high school students in England, with growth mindset also being associated with conscientiousness and academic effort.
Growth mindset has also been help to improve grades in students who are likely to suffer from the ‘stereotype threat’, which is they believe certain stereotypes about who does well in certain subjects. For example, this study by Catherine Good and colleagues from the University of New York on 1,005 students found that growth mindset improved a sense of belonging in females pupils studying maths, which improved their grades, as did this study on 79 students by researchers from New York University, Winona State University and The University of Texas who found that teaching African American students about a growth mindset and how it related to learning led to those students, on average, getting a boost in their grades. These students were also more likely to report greater enjoyment about school and were more engaged in lesson afterwards as well.
Finally, this study of 115 students found that ‘students who believed that intelligence could be developed earned higher grades and were more likely to move to advanced math courses over time’.
So to summarise, at least nine studies from students of different ages, genders and nationalities from around the world show a positive relationship between growth mindset and better grades. We say at least nine studies, as this was not an exhaustive list based on an extensive literature review…just based on the studies we are aware of. The truth is that it is likely that even more exist)
Growth Mindset = Maybe Better Grades
The Sutton Trust commissioned a study that found that students who received a growth mindset intervention made, on average, two months additional progress in English and Maths, though these results weren’t statistically significant. This means that although this difference maybe down to chance.
One of the issues that the researchers in this study raise was the difficulties of having a control group. Because growth mindset is discussed so much in schools, it was hard to have a control group to compare the effects of growth mindset interventions against, as they may also be present in the control group already.
A follow up study is already underway, though having seen some of the materials being used in it, I would strongly doubt that it would lead to great improvements in grades. To give an example of this, the students will watch a series of videos about historical figures who were said to have a growth mindset. Translating this into grades will be difficult, especially as it doesn’t sound particularly subtle and stealthy as recommended here.
Growth Mindset = No Difference in Grades
As far as we are aware, there is only one study that shows no relationship between growth mindset and grades. This was done by researchers Yue Li and Timothy Bates who examined 222 students in China (there study is an interesting one to read, which you can do here).
Although not strictly focused on exam results, two other studies are worth mentioning in this section as they found no relationship between outcomes you would expect to be associated with grades. This study by Stepan Bahnik and Marek Vranka from the University of Economics in Prague found no relationship between how 5,653 university students did in a university scholastic aptitute test (or how they did in a re-test of it later). Likewise, this study by Brooke Macnamara and Natasha Rupani, of 200 University students, found no link between someone’s mindset and their level of education.
Aptitude tests and level of level of education are clearly not the same as grades. There are many reasons why someone may not go on to higher education, not just because they didn’t get good grades. However, there is probably enough of overlap between aptitude tests and level of education with grades to merit these two studies being included in this section.
Final Thought on Growth Mindset and Grades
So to conclude, does having a growth mindset help students improve their grades? Definitely. Yes. Maybe. Probably. Possibly. No. The truth is, we don’t know for sure as science (and indeed psychology tries to disproves things, not prove them). As with all things, anyone who says anything with 100% certainty is probably wrong. By our calculation, we make it nine studies showing that growth mindset is associated with better grades, one saying maybe and one saying no (with two others saying no to similar things).
I have no doubt that more studies will come out in the future that says it does, and some will come out and say they don’t . We will update this blog as and when new studies are released, and if anyone knows any research that we have missed, please do let us know.
Given the amount of different studies and the large number of sample sizes that do show a link between mindset and grades, we would predict that having a growth mindset will lead to better grades. But it is no guarantee. As with most things in psychology, it’s not just what you do but how you do it that it is key.
For even more great growth mindset tips, check out our blog on 10 Ways to Give Better Feedback.