I Think I Can!

Beginning university can be one of the most exciting times of your academic life. However, for many students, this excitement soon hits a road-block in the form of their first midterm. This is when most students realize that they might need to work a lot harder in university than they did in high school, and that their belief in their abilities could affect their academic success. Many students may encounter a sudden lack of confidence in their abilities, and it is what they choose to learn from this experience that can determine their self-efficacy. 

So what is self-efficacy? Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their own abilities to reach a goal. It shapes how someone might feel, think, behave and approach different situations. 

But be sure not to confuse this with self-esteem. While self-esteem refers to an individual’s emotional value of oneself, self-efficacy involves someone’s evaluation of their own abilities to complete a goal.

In an academic environment, students with higher self-efficacy tend to have a stronger correlation with academic success. These students accomplish academic tasks by setting themselves more challenging goals(pdf)challenging goals to achieve. For example, a student with higher self-efficacy might set themselves to ‘Pass all my courses with a B average’. Setting a specific goal ensures that you have to work hard each day to reach this target. 

In a study shown by Collins,J.L, it was found that regardless of ability level, students with high self-efficacy were able to complete more problems correctly, and spent more time revising problems that they missed. By contrast, students with low efficacy spent less time revisiting problems that they missed, suggesting that they were less likely to attempt a task that they personally believed to be beyond their skill level. I can personally recall numerous times when I would begin revising questions I knew how to solve just to ‘make sure’ I was correct, and completely give up on the more difficult questions. 

So, you might be wondering, ‘Now that I believe I can do it, I’ll be successful!’. Sadly, it’s not as easy as that. Along with your confidence, you must be able to support it by putting in the work and effort. The best way to do so is by setting yourself small goals and tasks to complete that make your end goal less daunting. However, there are still some techniques you can keep in 

mind to raise your confidence in your abilities.

Learning Pyramid.

Performance experience

This is the use of your past experiences to provide confidence to attempt a new task or challenge. By taking a look at the learning pyramid, we can see that ‘practice by doing’ is rated the second best retention technique. Simply setting yourself up in exam conditions to practice for your final, not only helps you retain large amounts of information, but it will also help you improve your self-efficacy as you will feel more confident in your abilities to successfully complete the exam when you recall being in a very similar situation not long before. 

Vicarious experience

This refers to observing your peers or others in a similar situation completing what you have challenged yourself to do. For example, watching your friend present their year-end project before you will help you feel less nervous and more confident in your own public speaking abilities. 

Social persuasion

This essentially refers to positive reinforcement from your peers or mentors. All forms of positive reinforcement from anyone can boost your confidence. However, the more credible the source, the better you will feel about your ability to complete a task. For example, you might feel better if your professor with a PhD in mathematics told you how great your problem solving skills were compared to if your grandma told you the same. 

Imaginal experience 

This refers to one’s use of their imagination to envision the end goal of their tasks. For example, if you have a job interview for your dream job coming up, try imagining yourself at the interview. Ask yourself questions what might come up, and answer them! The more confident your answers sound, the more you will actually believe in your success. Turn that imagination into a reality!

Physical and emotional states

This refers to how someone may experience physical or emotional sensations when taking on a challenge. For example, right before taking an exam, you may feel anxious or nervous, thus hindering your mind’s ability to recall key information. If you take a moment to breathe and re-frame this emotion as excitement to perform the exam and finally get it out of the way, it may help you feel more confident. Some people may call this a ‘pep-talk’. Just make sure you do this in your own thoughts or when alone, otherwise people might look at you funny!

Each person’s self-efficacy can vary greatly between different challenges and tasks. For example, a student with a high self-efficacy for math may have a low self-efficacy for writing research papers and vice versa. If you feel like there is an area of study where you would like to see improvement in, give the above techniques a try. Use the examples provided to help boost your confidence in your abilities. 

Before I wrap up, it is worth mentioning that there is much more to achieving success through self-efficacy than just ‘believing’ in yourself. Otherwise, with the amount of cliché quotes on ‘believing in yourself’ out there, everyone would be successful in whatever they choose to do. Self-efficacy is not to ‘question your abilities, then adjust the goal’. It is more to ‘set yourself a final goal, then use your abilities to reach that goal’. 

Now that you have a better idea of what self-efficacy is, and some of the key influences of attaining higher self-efficacy, think about your past successes. Think about the successes of your peers. Imagine yourself completing that daunting task you’ve been worrying about. Use these to support you as you take a step towards a more confident and motivated approach to your future challenges. 

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