Decomposing Achievement Test Scores Into Measures of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills

36 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2019

See all articles by Lex Borghans

Lex Borghans

Maastricht University - Department of Economics; University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Trudie Schils

Maastricht University

Date Written: December 20, 2018

Abstract

Achievement test scores not only reflect students’ ability, knowledge and intelligence, but also their noncognitive skills such as personality traits and motivation. If multiple traits determine test scores, an important question is whether it is feasible to unravel the information from one test to get separate measures for different traits. The aim of this paper is to disentangle cognitive and noncognitive factors from the performance on a single test. We use the random allocation of test booklets to students, which generates exogenous variation in the position of questions in the test. We document that (1) performance declines during the test; (2) this decline differs from the performance at the start of the test; (3) these factors are very stable over time; (4) both factors are differently related to cognitive and noncognitive measures. Performance at the start of the test strongly relating to cognitive measures and openness, and the performance decline during the test relating to conscientiousness, agreeableness, and need for achievement; and (5) both factors predict life outcomes differently. Performance at the start of the test shows a stronger relation with being employed, being in good overall health and not smoking at age 34, whereas the performance decline during the test shows a stronger relation with being single, life satisfaction or drinking behavior at age 34. The paper shows that one achievement test can be used to measure different personal characteristics – both cognitive and noncognitive – enabling the investigation of the channels through which achievement tests predict future outcomes and providing an approach for objective measurement of personality.

Keywords: test scores, noncognitive skills

JEL Classification: I20, J20, J24

Suggested Citation

Borghans, Lex and Schils, Trudie, Decomposing Achievement Test Scores Into Measures of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills (December 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3414156 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3414156

Lex Borghans

Maastricht University - Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD
Netherlands

University of Maastricht - Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, MD6200
Netherlands

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Trudie Schils (Contact Author)

Maastricht University ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200MD
Netherlands

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