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COVID-19 beliefs, self-efficacy and academic performance in first-year university students: Cohort comparison and mediation analysis

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 00:19 authored by Kate TalsmaKate Talsma, Kayleigh Robertson, Cleo Thomas, Kimberley NorrisKimberley Norris
Students’ learning contexts can influence their learning beliefs and academic performance outcomes; as such, students studying during the COVID-19 outbreak may be at risk of negative impacts on their academic self-efficacy and subject grades compared to other cohorts. They may also have specific beliefs about the impact of COVID-19-related changes on their capacity to perform, with potential consequences for self-efficacy and academic performance. Two weeks after the COVID-19-related transition to online-only learning, 89 first-year psychology students completed a measure of academic self-efficacy and indicated how they thought COVID-19-related changes would impact their capacity to perform in a psychology subject. At the end of the semester, subject grades were obtained from institutional records. Contrary to expectations, neither the self-efficacy beliefs nor the subject grades of the 2020 cohort were significantly different from those of a sample of 2019 first-year psychology students (n = 85). On average, 2020 students believed that COVID-19-related changes to their learning environment had a negative impact on their capacity to perform well. A mediation analysis indicated that students’ beliefs about the impact of COVID-19 on their capacity did not directly, or indirectly (via self-efficacy), predict grades. The only significant association in the model was between self-efficacy and grades. Although students reported believing that COVID-19-related changes would negatively impact their capacity to perform, there is little evidence that these beliefs influenced their academic self-efficacy or academic performance or that studying during the COVID-19 outbreak disadvantaged students in comparison with the previous years. A follow-up analysis indicated that self-efficacy was a stronger predictor of grades in the 2020 cohort than in the 2019 cohort. While there may be several unmeasured reasons for cohort differences, one potential interpretation is that, in the context of uncertainty associated with COVID-19, self-efficacy beliefs assumed relatively greater importance in terms of mobilising the resources required to perform well.


Publication title

Frontiers in Psychology








School of Psychological Sciences


Frontiers Research Foundation

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright © 2021 Talsma, Robertson, Thomas and Norris. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Higher education; Mental health