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Although some research exists regarding collegiate GPAs, little is known about which individual student characteristics predict college graduation. We study 100 students from the University of Minnesota Morris. Information collected includes demographics, standard personality traits (known in Psychology as the “Big Five”), two economic preferences (risk aversion and patience), and three cognitive skills (numeracy, non-verbal IQ, “Hit15”).“Hit 15” is a game played against the computer in which each player must add 1, 2, or 3 on each turn. Winning is exactly hitting fifteen first; players take turns going first and the starting point total varies (game theory calls solving this “backward induction”).

Using standardized versions of our variables in multivariate models, we analyze their power to predict three student success measures—timely graduation (≤ 4 years), graduation at all (≤ 6 years), and GPA. Controlling for other measured characteristics the “Hit 15” measure weakly predicts 4-year graduation and strongly predicts 6-year graduation. Interestingly, “Hit 15” is more powerful than other cognitive skills in a combined multivariate model.

We compare these findings to results from parallel models run on a cohort of 1,065 trainee truckers, from whom identical initial measures were collected. Similar to the student cohort, “Hit 15” is strongly associated with trucking success over time—defined as completing a one-year training contract. This suggests “Hit 15” deserves further investigation as it captures something above our other measures in both settings: the ability to think backwards from future goals to determine the best current action to take under varying circumstances.

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College students, Grading and marking (Students), Simulation games


Behavioral Economics | Cognition and Perception | Experimental Analysis of Behavior

Moving Ahead by Thinking Backwards