Self-Efficacy, Self-Talk and the Effect on Academic Performance


Self-efficacy is defined as the extent to which a student believes he or she is capable of accomplishing a task under certain conditions (Bandura, 1997).   Often students believe that they are quite capable in one subject while they, “just can’t get” another.  Therefore self-efficacy is not stable across all areas of performance.  Even those of us who are extremely high achievers in one area admit to inability in other areas, and most students who are failing several subjects will have at least one thing (academic subject, sport, or hobby) in which they believe their performance is superior.

Researchers have found that self-efficacy is a key motivational belief which influences students’ academic performance (Chemers, Hu, & Garcia, 2001).  So the first step students need to take on journey to find academic success is to change the way they feel about their studies and their beliefs about their abilities.  A good way to do this is by understanding and changing something called, “Self-Talk.”


I often discuss with students as we begin our journey how it’s important to remove negative language from our vocabulary.  Avoid saying “I guess” when it comes to your school efforts.  Avoid saying, “I’ll try” when it comes to your desire to make an “A.”  Replace these words with positive affirmations such as, “I’ll do it!”

Self-talk affects your attitude, and your attitude affects your beliefs and ultimately your actions.  If you believe you are a poor student your behaviors will reflect the actions of someone that makes poor grades.  The first step in changing negative self-talk is tracking what you say and believe about your academic abilities.  The next step involves making a conscious effort to change the way you think and feel about your study efforts.

Below is a graph students can use to start changing the way they think and feel about their academic abilities.


Click on image for a better view.

Instructions: Start by writing down any negative thoughts you might have regarding your study abilities.  Then, create some positive statements you can repeat to yourself that counters your negative thoughts.

When you notice yourself think or say something negative about your academic abilities it’s important to not only journal your belief but to make yourself break the self destructive pattern, no matter how much you believe what you just thought or said.  Say to yourself, “Stop!” when a negative idea first surfaces.

One problem students often have with changing their negative self-talk is their instance to the contrary such as: “But this is true!  This assignment really is impossible for me to get a good grade on!”  In that circumstance a softer approach might be needed at first.

For example, instead of saying, “This assignment is impossible!” you might turn the statement into a question:

  • How will it be possible for me to complete this assignment?
  • What actions will I need to take to finish the assignment completely and on time?
  • What behaviors will I need to do (preparation, time required) and not do (missing a party, staying in this weekend) in order to have the necessary time to completed the assignment?
  • What kind of help will I need in order to understand the material?
  • Who might I go to for assistance on this assignment?

While the negative statement of, “This assignment is impossible!” will likely lead to poor effort, the above questions will direct your attitude towards more healthy and productive behaviors that will ultimately result in improved grades.