Students of all ages, but especially those in high school and college face many academic dilemmas, in which they are required to make decisions. But what factors motivate students to make the academic decisions that they do?


Malte et al. (2021) aimed to answer this question by examining the direct and indirect effects of achievement, self-concept, and value on high students’ decisions to take advanced mathematics or language courses as upperclassmen, as well as their intentions to major in a STEM field in college. Secondly, they studied the causes of gender differences in course selections and study intentions. Unlike previous studies, Malte et al., (2021) integrated both expectancy-value theory (EVT) and dimensional comparison theory (DCT). EVT proposes that students’ expected beliefs for success, and their values for a given task in a domain cause differences in their educational choices, such as declaring majors and making career choices. DCT proposes that students make choices by comparing their ability/achievements across different domains (or subject areas).


For the study, Malte et al. collected and analyzed data from 519 students in Berlin’s public high schools. The study was carried out as a longitudinal study. In 9th grade, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire and achievement tests in different subject areas. Then, in 12th grade, the same group of students completed another questionnaire. Additionally, school administrators provided experimenters with information on students’ grades and advanced course selections. The variables were analyzed to determine the effects of self-concept, value, and grades on students’ course selection and intentions to pursue STEM in college.


The results demonstrated a strong positive correlation within domains and a strong negative correlation across domains. Students’ achievement, self-concept, and values in a domain were strongly correlated with their choices for advanced courses. In other words, students whose achievements, self-concepts, and values were high in mathematics were more likely to choose advanced math courses, while they were less likely to choose advanced language courses. The same logic applied for students who reported higher expectancy values in mathematics. But among various predictors, self-concept (or self-perceived ability in the domain) had the strongest direct effect on course selections. In addition, students who had higher math values demonstrated higher intentions to pursue STEM in college.


Results further showed that female students were less likely to choose advanced math courses and less likely to study STEM, as compared to male students. According to analysis, gendered differences can be attributed to domain-specific achievements, self-concepts, and values, which means that male and female students formulate different constructs (beliefs and values) of EVT. Because female students reported higher German self-concepts and values, they were more likely to choose advanced German courses, and less likely to pursue STEM in college. The same was held true for males in math courses. Collectively, the results indicated that dimensional comparison effects were “mediated through” (p. 345) expectancy beliefs and values.


The findings can be implicated in a broader educational setting. For example, the study can inform educators about ways to help students develop stronger and healthier self-concepts in various domains. It can also guide counselors when advising students about future IB or AP courses (specifically in the U.S.), as well as finding colleges that best cater to students’ strengths and interests.


In addition, Malte et al.’s (2021) study can be tied into EPIC’s research on students’ failure stories in math and science. It can inform our research in observing how students form self-concepts and values after a failure experience. In addition, our method of interviewing students and carefully analyzing their failure stories allow us to collect not only statistical results but also qualitative data that uncovers why students make the choices that they do. We can further look into factors that motivate students to remain interested in STEM, even when they face challenges.


For more details on Malte et al.’s (2021) study, retrieve the journal article using the following link:



Malte, J., Becker, M., & Neumann, M. (2021). Dimensional Comparison Effects on (Gendered) Educational Choices. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(2), 330-350.