ment. Other traits, such as Openness to Experience, predict finer measures of educational attainment, such as attendance and course difficulty. Traits related to Neuroticism also affect educational attainment, but the relationship is not always monotonic. Conscientiousness predicts college grades to the same degree that SAT scores do. Personality measures predict performance on achievement tests and, to a lesser degree, performance on intelligence tests. (p. 127)

It is important to note that while these associations are large enough to pass conventional thresholds of statistical significance, they almost never account for more than a nominal amount of the variation in the educational attainment outcomes under study.

The most noteworthy meta-analysis of these kinds of data is by Poropat (2009), who examined studies of the simple correlations between personality factors and school grades in primary, secondary, and higher education.1 He found a significant positive association between conscientiousness and grades in primary school through college (see top half of Table 3-2). The simple correlations between conscientiousness and grades in high school and college were in the 0.20-0.25 range, about as high as the correlations between measures of general cognitive ability and grades in high school and college.2 In comparison with other correlates of grades identified in previous studies, these two correlations are at approximately the same level as socioeconomic status (Sirin, 2005) and slightly lower than the correlations found for conscientiousness in industry training programs (Arthur et al., 2003).

In elementary school, general cognitive ability is the strongest correlate of grades, although all five personality factors are positively correlated with grades. Correlations between personality factors and grades generally fall over the course of high school and college. In higher education, among the five personality factors, only conscientiousness is correlated with grades.

Three studies of the correlations between “big five” personality traits and completed schooling have included at least some regression controls (Goldberg et al., 1998; van Eijck and de Graaf, 2004; Almlund et al., 2011). All find positive adjusted associations for concientiousness that range from 0.05 to 0.18, and all find modest negative adjusted associations for extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.


1The Poropat (2009) analysis included many more studies focused on grades in secondary (24-35 studies) and higher education (75-92 studies) than in elementary school (8 studies).

2In social science research, such correlations are generally interpreted following rules of thumb developed by Cohen (1988), in which a correlation of 0.20 is considered small, a correlation of 0.50 is considered medium, and a correlation of 0.80 is considered large.

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