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What are the early predictors of university success?

What are the early predictors of university success?

4 min read
  • The science of learning

Many students find the transition from secondary to higher education challenging and difficult. This leads to low retention rates in universities, where approximately 7% to 19% of bachelor students drop out after their first year.

So, how can we help students get to university feeling prepared for the challenges they’re about to face? Interesting new research has identified the main predictors of university success – allowing you to develop the best strategies to target these in your classroom.

What are the predictors of university success?

Sixth Form grades

Unsurprisingly, students’ Sixth Form grades are a strong predictor of whether they eventually graduate from university. These not only capture a student’s mastery of academic content, but also other abilities they need for university success, such as time management and effective studying.


Effort refers to trying hard, working hard, paying attention, and showing persistence in the face of challenging academic work. It has been found that students who exert more effort during their last year of secondary school are less likely to drop out of the first year of university.

Academic self-efficacy

Academic self-efficacy is a student’s perception of their capability to learn and perform. It has been found that students with positive academic self-efficacy during secondary school are more likely to receive a higher examination grade in university. This is because these students have greater self-confidence, which allows them to trust their abilities and judgements to achieve their goals.

Help your students transition comfortably into university life and prepare well for its difficulties, so they can focus on learning.

How to prepare your students for university success

So, how can you help your students take full advantage of these predictive factors to prepare them for university success?

Adopt effective study techniques

Teaching your students to adopt effective study techniques can maximise their academic performance in Sixth Form and beyond.

One technique that has been repeatedly shown to help students improve retention and recall (and subsequently, exam performance) is Retrieval Practice. This is any activity that forces students to recall information from their memory (i.e., generating an answer to a question). You can embed Retrieval Practice into lessons and homework by asking students to complete short-answer, long-answer or multiple-choice questions on a topic.

Spacing, which refers to studying little but often, is another study technique you can bring into your classroom. Try encouraging your students to create a monthly study schedule to help them space out their study sessions effectively and stay on track. You can give them a study plan template where they can fill in the amount of revision to do for each topic.

Not only will Spacing put students on track to receive better Sixth Form grades, but it also fosters time management skills, which are vital to university success.

Boost motivation 

According to Self-Determination Theory, students become more motivated when they feel in control of their behaviours and have a sense of belonging in the classroom.

  •  To help your students feel more in control of their behaviours, give them choices within their learning journey. For example, try providing your students with various ways to complete an assignment or solve a problem.
  •  To encourage a sense of belonging in your classroom, try including team-building activities to strengthen relationships between students, and consistently check on each student’s progress and well-being to show that you care.

With high motivation, students are inclined to put more effort into their studies, which ultimately puts them on the path to university success.

Give quality feedback 

Students’ academic self-efficacy is often based on the feedback of others on their capabilities and performances. It is therefore important that you give high-quality feedback to your students. Let your students know when they improve on an exam or an assignment and ask them what strategies they used to improve. This helps them build self-confidence and prepares them for university success.

We have a number of blogs to help you give your students better feedback:

Final thoughts

While the change from secondary school to university is exciting, academic life can differ greatly from what students are used to. The good news is that this transition can be made smoother by adopting the above strategies in your classroom to equip your students with the skills needed to succeed in university.

And if you need some extra help to prepare your students for the challenges coming their way, why not book our Surviving University student workshop?

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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