Big Five Personality Traits as Predictors of the Academic Success of University and College Students in Early Childhood Education

Aug. 01, 2015

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 41, No. 4, 385–403, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study investigated the effects of the Big Five personality traits on academic success as measured by the final grade and study satisfaction of college and university students in early childhood education in Germany.

The study is part of a German longitudinal project on the labour market entry and career development of educational staff in early childhood education.
Data from 567 college students and 270 university students were used.
Data acquisition was conducted via self-administered questionnaires that could be completed in paper-pencil or electronic versions.

Several socio-demographic variables and the school-leaving Grade Point Average (GPA) served as controls.
Academic success was measured with two variables.
The first was university or college GPA.
Second, a scale representing study satisfaction adapted from Bargel, Müssig-Trapp, and Willige (2008) was used.
The Big Five were assessed in the first wave with the 15-item Big Five-Inventory-SOEP (BFI-S; Gerlitz and Schupp 2005), which, apart from weakness on the agreeableness scale, has been shown to be reliable and valid (Hahn, Gottschling, and Spinath 2012).


As expected, students with higher conscientiousness also had better college and university GPAs.
The findings indicated that conscientiousness corresponded with better GPAs for college and university students in early childhood education.
Furthermore, school-leaving GPA was quite a good predictor of college and university GPA in this study of early childhood education.
In addition, higher conscientiousness was associated with higher study satisfaction but only for college students.

Unexpectedly, neuroticism was not negatively related to study satisfaction.
In addition, there were exploratory findings concerning the effects of agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness.

Implications for research and practice

Some practical implications can be drawn from the findings.
Conscientiousness is a comparatively consistent and good predictor of individual differences in the academic success, particularly the GPAs, of college and university students in early childhood education.
The effects of the other personality traits are less consistent.
Although the Big Five have been shown to be partially hereditary and moderately stable, they have consequences for the preparation of students in early childhood education.
Generally, students should be informed about how personality traits may affect study-related actions, and they should be cognisant of their own personality traits (e.g. via self-assessment) when reflecting on their own study experiences.
College and university GPAs as well as study satisfaction are only one part of the qualification of early childhood pedagogues in an array of interwoven components that comprise, for instance, different kinds of knowledge (e.g. theoretical knowledge, experience-based knowledge) and educational beliefs (e.g. educational goals, beliefs about the educational mandate of preschools).
That is, academic success in early childhood teacher education (and school teacher education) is not limited to GPA and study satisfaction but rather involves a complex bundle of competencies that reflect an overall professional attitude.
Nonetheless, these findings are important because research and theory suggest that the significance of the Big Five personality traits is not limited to GPA and study satisfaction.


Bargel, T., P. Müssig-Trapp, and J. Willige. 2008. “Studienqualitätsmonitor 2007 [Monitoring study quality.” Accessed November, 29, 2014.

Gerlitz, Y., and J. Schupp. 2005. Zur Erhebung der Big-Five-basierten Persönlichkeitsmerkmale im SOEP. [Assessment of Big Five Personality Traits in the SOEP]. Berlin: German Institute of Economic Research. DIW.

Hahn, E., J. Gottschling, and F. M. Spinath. 2012. “Short Measurements of Personality –Validity and Reliability of the GSOEP Big Five Inventory (BFI-S).” Journal of Research in Personality 46 (3): 355–359.

Updated: Feb. 03, 2016