Academic Self-Concept

How is it defined?

Self-concept refers to the ability people have to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Academic self-concept relates to how well an individual feels they can learn. The Learning Bar’s framework on student engagement includes measures of social, institutional and intellectual engagement. Academic self-concept sits under students’ social-emotional outcomes. The academic self-concept measure is closely connected to both the optimism and happiness measures. Combined, these three measures provide information about students’ self-perceptions of worth and positive emotions.

Why is it important?

  • Craven and Marsh (2008) argue that self-concept is an ‘all-pervasive characteristic of humans that is central to psychological wellbeing and a powerful mediating influence on psychosocial constructs that underpin human potential’. They demonstrate its impact on a wide range of wellbeing outcomes including happiness, motivation, anxiety, depression and academic striving behaviours.
  • Self-concept is often divided into two components: academic and non-academic. Academic self-concept is often analysed by subject area (Marsh, 1990).
  • A positive academic self-concept facilitates positive academic perspectives and behaviours such as persistence at academic tasks, positive academic choices, educational aspirations, and academic achievement (Craven and Marsh, 2008).
  • Prior academic self-concept has been demonstrated to causally influence subsequent academic achievement, and prior achievement causally influences subsequent self-concept (Marsh and Craven, 2006).
  • Students with low academic self-concept are more likely to be hindered by failure than students with high academic self-concept (Craven and Marsh, 2008).
  • Yoon, Eccles and Wigfield (1996) found that unrealistically inflated self-concept of ability, or over-confidence, helped males’ academic achievement. However, the opposite was true for females.

How do we measure it?

In the Tell Them From Me secondary school questionnaire, students respond to Likert questions regarding the extent to which they agree they are able to successfully learn at school. The questions gauge students’ self-perceived confidence and positivity levels with regards to schoolwork as a whole; the questions are not subject specific. The results are reported as the percentage of students with high, medium or low levels of academic self-concept. Students with high levels of academic self-concept are also described as students that ‘feel they can do well in their school work’.

This briefing note is for a DOE custom well-being measure and has been prepared by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.



Craven, R. G., & Marsh, H. W. (2008). The centrality of the self-concept construct for psychological wellbeing and unlocking human potential: Implications for child and educational psychologists. Educational & Child Psychology, 25(2), 104-118.

Marsh, H. W. (1990). The structure of academic self-concept: The Marsh/Shavelson model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 623-636.

Marsh, H. W., & Craven, R. G. (2006). Reciprocal effects of self-concept and performance from a multidimensional perspective: Beyond seductive pleasure and unidimensional perspectives. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 133-163.

Yoon, K. S., Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (1996). Self-concept of ability, value and academic achievement: A test of causal relations. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York.