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Academic Self-Concept and


Self-Efficacy: How Different
Are They Really?
Article in Educational Psychology Review January 2003
Impact Factor: 2.4 DOI: 10.1023/A:1021302408382

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C 2003)
Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, March 2003 (

Academic Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy: How


Different Are They Really?
Mimi Bong1, 3 and Einar M. Skaalvik2

Academic motivation researchers sometimes struggle to decipher the distinctive characteristics of what appear to be highly analogous constructs. In this
article, we discuss important similarities between self-concept and self-efficacy
as well as some notable differences. Both constructs share many similarities
such as centrality of perceived competence in construct definition; use of mastery experience, social comparison, and reflected appraisals as major information sources; and a domain-specific and multidimensional nature. Both predict
motivation, emotion, and performance to varying degrees. However, there are
also important differences. These differences include integration vs. separation
of cognition and affect, heavily normative vs. goal-referenced evaluation of
competence, aggregated vs. context-specific judgment, hierarchical vs. loosely
hierarchical structure, past vs. future orientation, and relative temporal stability vs. malleability. We argue that self-efficacy acts as an active precursor of
self-concept development and suggest that self-concept research separate out
its multiple components and subprocesses and invest more effort toward making students less preoccupied with normative ability comparisons in school.
KEY WORDS: self-concept; self-efficacy; self-esteem; motivation.

Researchers in personality and social psychology have long been interested


in the role of self-related perceptions. Individuals who are otherwise similar
feel differently about themselves and choose different courses of action,
depending on how they construe themselveswhat attributes they think
1 Department

of Educational Psychology, University of South Carolina, South Carolina,

Columbia.

2 Department

of Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim,


Norway.
3 To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of Educational Psychology, 135 Wardlaw Hall, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. E-mail:
mimibong@sc.edu.
1
C 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation
1040-726X/03/0300-0001/0

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they possess, what roles they presume they are expected to play, what they
believe they are capable of, how they view they fare in comparison with
others, and how they judge they are viewed by others. Without doubt, these
are beliefs and perceptions about self that are heavily rooted in ones past
achievement and reinforcement history. Yet it is these subjective convictions
about oneself, once established, which play a determining role in individuals
further growth and development (Bandura, 1997; Markus and Nurius, 1986).
It is only reasonable that these self-perceptions have received a great
deal of attention in educational research (Byrne, 1984). Children with different self-beliefs demonstrate different levels of cognitive, social, and emotional engagement in school. Because school-related experience makes up
a major portion of childrens lives and shapes the early paths to important
life outcomes, educational researchers try to grasp the meaning of self in
students minds. Various models and theories of self-related cognition have
been proposed and tested within the context of school learning. Self-concept
and self-efficacy are the two self-constructs that have received a lot of attention. During the past couple of decades, numerous studies in educational
research have resorted to either self-concept or self-efficacy to explain the
function of self in school contexts. These studies produced abundant evidence on the potency of each self-belief. The field now struggles to decipher
the distinguishing characteristics and comparative usefulness of the two belief systems.
Making a clear and irrefutable distinction between beliefs of selfconcept and self-efficacy is not an easy task. However, it is nonetheless possible to illuminate some of the similarities and differences between these two
conceptions. This is the goal of this article. While more recent reviews on this
topic highlighted differences between the two (e.g., Bong and Clark, 1999),
we try to deduce also important similarities underlying the formulation of
the two self-beliefs. In doing so, our hope is that the theory and research
in this area become more integrated to give educational researchers and
practitioners better understandings of students perception of self and what
it does to their cognitive and psychological well-being in school.

DEFINITIONS OF CONSTRUCTS
Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy
Self-concept is colloquially defined as a composite view of oneself.
Rosenberg (1979) defined self-concept as . . . the totality of the individuals thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object
(p. 7). Shavelson, Hubner, and Stanton (1976) provided a similar

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definition of self-concept that formed the theoretical foundation of contemporary self-concept research:
In very broad terms, self-concept is a persons perception of himself. . . . We do
not claim an entity within a person called self-concept. Rather, we claim that
the construct is potentially important and useful in explaining and predicting how
one acts. Ones perceptions of himself are thought to influence the ways in which
he acts, and his acts in turn influence the ways in which he perceives himself. . . .
Seven features can be identified as critical to the construct definition. Self-concept
may be described as: organized, multifaceted, hierarchical, stable, developmental,
evaluative, and differentiable. (p. 411)

Self-concept is formed through experiences with the environment and is


influenced especially by environmental reinforcements and significant others
(Shavelson et al., 1976). Skaalvik (1997a) identified some key antecedents to
self-concept in his recent review (see also Rayner and Devi, 2001; Skaalvik
and Skaalvik, in press):
(1) Frames of reference. Self-concept is heavily influenced by frames
of reference or standards against which to judge ones own traits
and accomplishments. Social comparison often serves as the most
potent source of information for self-concept. Frames of reference
play a particularly important role in the development of academic
self-concept (Marsh, 1986, 1987).
(2) Causal attributions. The factors to which people attribute their successes and failures are hypothesized to influence descriptive and affective aspects of their self-concept. Self-concept and attributions are
related in a reciprocal manner such that the types of causal attributions made for previous successes and failures influence subsequent
self-concept and the self-concept thus formed affects later attributions (Skaalvik, 1997a; Stipek, 1993; Tennen and Herzberger, 1987).
(3) Reflected appraisals from significant others. Several self-concept researchers suggested that people come to view themselves as they
believe how others view them. Sullivan (1947) stated, The self may
be said to be made up of reflected appraisals (p. 10). Rosenberg
(1979) also claimed that . . . there is probably no more critical and
significant source of information about ourselves than other peoples
views of us, referring to Meads conception that in communication
we take the role of the other. (Mead, 1934)
(4) Mastery experiences. Self-schemas are created from individuals past
experiences in a particular domain. Relevant information and experiences are subsequently processed by these self-schemas (Markus
and Nurius, 1986). Although self-concept researchers do not explicitly emphasize the role of mastery experiences in self-concept formation, Skaalvik (1997a) suggested that prior mastery experiences

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might be of comparable importance to the formation of self-concept


as they are to the formation of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986).
(5) Psychological centrality. Rosenberg (1979), in his analysis of selfesteem, claimed that self-esteem is based on self-assessments of qualities that are perceived as important or psychologically central by
individuals. Skaalviks (1997a) review found mixed evidence to support this notion. However, Harter and Mayberry (1984) provided
evidence that supports the effects of psychological centrality on selfconcept. These investigators asked fifth to seventh graders to rate
both the importance of five different areas (i.e., school, sports, social
relations, physical appearance, and behavior) and their own competency within these areas. Self-esteem was the highest among students
who rated their best areas as also the most important.
Historically, self-concept research has emphasized a global construct
such as general self-concept. Typically, a composite score was computed by
summing self-concept responses from standardized instruments toward various aspects of life and was then treated as an indicator of ones self-concept
(e.g., Piers and Harris, 1964; see Marsh, 1990a, for an overview). These global
assessments of self-regard that were detached from any specific context contributed to earlier views of self-concept research as an ill-disciplined field
and difficult to conceptualize and operationalize (Hansford and Hattie,
1982). Harter (1982) also observed that Typically, constructs such as selfconcept and self-esteem are vaguely defined at the conceptual level and
therefore do not point to any clear operational definition (p. 87). Owing
mostly to this ambiguity, the average relationship between the self (variously
termed as self, self-concept, and self-esteem) and academic achievement indexed in 128 studies located by Hansford and Hattie was only 0.212. This
was a disappointing result in light of intuitive assumptions and theoretical
arguments that positive self-beliefs should result in improved performance.
The global nature of self-concept has since been criticized as diminishing its power to explain behavior (Bandura, 1981) and overlooking important distinctions children make across activity domains (Harter, 1982). After
decades of research with a myriad of global and undifferentiated views of
self, the field has come to realize that any sound understanding of childrens
self-concept and its impact on their functioning in school must take into account the effects of domain on these judgments (Marsh, 1993). As can be
seen in the definition by Shavelson et al. (1976), self-concept is now viewed
as perceptions of oneself that are multidimensional. Recent self-concept
studies that focus on the domain-specific self-concepts have documented
that globality is not necessarily inherent in the construct definition (Byrne,
1996). At the same time, perceived competence emerged as a key component

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that has particularly significant bearing on students motivation and learning among the array of information available in their complex school-related
self-conceptions (Harter, 1990). The work of Marsh and his associates, for
example, reflects both of these recent developments fairly well. Conducted
primarily in the framework of the Shavelson hierarchy, this line of work
has produced more consistent and encouraging results regarding the selfconcept effect (Marsh, 1990d, 1993). A recent meta-analysis on math selfconcept also showed that studies published after 1986 reported particularly
stronger relations between self-concept and achievement (Ma and Kishor,
1997).
Compared with the self-concept research, research in self-efficacy is
characterized by its relatively short history. Bandura (1977) offered a formal
theoretical definition of self-efficacy:
Perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in ones capabilities to organize and execute
the courses of action required to produce given attainments. . . . Such beliefs influence
the course of action people choose to pursue, how much effort they put forth in
given endeavors, how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles and failures,
their resilience to adversity, whether their thought patterns are self-hindering or
self-aiding, how much stress and depression they experience in coping with taxing
environmental demands, and the level of accomplishments they realize. (p. 3)

Like self-concept, self-efficacy is presumed to explain and predict ones


thought, emotion, and action. However, efficacy judgment is less concerned
with what skills and abilities individuals possess. It considers more important
what individuals believe they can do with whatever skills and abilities they
may possess. This provides a point of comparison with a self-concept judgment, which routinely calls for an evaluation of the skills and abilities. While
self-concept represents ones general perceptions of the self in given domains of functioning, self-efficacy represents individuals expectations and
convictions of what they can accomplish in given situations. For example, the
expectation that one can high-jump 6 ft is an efficacy judgment (Bandura,
1986). It is not a judgment of whether one is competent in high-jumping
in general but a judgment of how strongly a person believes that he or she
can successfully jump that particular height under the given circumstances.
Self-efficacy researchers thus emphasize the role played by specific contexts
in efficacy appraisals.
Information for shaping self-efficacy beliefs comes from the following
four major sources (Bandura, 1986, 1997):
(1) Enactive mastery experience. Ones prior experiences with the tasks
in question provide the most reliable source of information for efficacy beliefs. Successes strengthen self-efficacy, whereas repeated
failures undermine it. A firm sense of efficacy built on the basis of
past successes is believed to withstand temporary failures.

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(2) Vicarious experience. People also establish their self-efficacy beliefs


on the basis of similar others performance on the tasks. Modeling
thus serves as another effective source of efficacy information. Vicarious experience exerts greater influence on self-efficacy formation
when there are no absolute measures of adequacy and when people
perceive similarity between the model and themselves (Schunk and
Hanson, 1985; Schunk, Hanson, and Cox, 1987).
(3) Verbal persuasion. Persuasive communication and evaluative feedback from significant others also influence ones judgment of selfefficacy. Verbal persuasion is most effective when people who convey the efficacy information are viewed knowledgeable and credible
and when the information is viewed realistic. However, disconfirming mastery experience easily outweighs self-efficacy beliefs created
solely on the basis of verbal persuasion.
(4) Physiological reactions. Heightened physiological arousals such as
sweating, heartbeats, fatigue, aches, pain, and mood changes also
send a signal to people that affects their efficacy appraisal. Recognition of these somatic symptoms leads to self-efficacy adjustments
through their effects on cognitive processing.
As can be seen, self-concept and self-efficacy share many of the presumed antecedents such as past experience, social comparison, and reinforcements from significant others. They share many of the presumed outcomes related to cognitive, affective, and behavioral functioning as well.
However, there are also differences in how they are conceptualized and operationalized in research. We discuss some of the noticeable trends in more
detail as they pertain to the domain of academic functioning.

Academic Self-Concept and Academic Self-Efficacy


Academic self-concept and academic self-efficacy refer to individuals
self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs that are formed specifically toward academic (as distinct from nonacademic, general, social, emotional, or physical) domains. More specifically, academic self-concept refers to individuals knowledge and perceptions about themselves in achievement situations
(Byrne, 1984; Shavelson and Bolus, 1982; Wigfield and Karpathian, 1991).
Academic self-efficacy refers to individuals convictions that they can successfully perform given academic tasks at designated levels (Schunk, 1991).
Both constructs received much attention from educational researchers
because of their purported influence on students academic functioning. Numerous studies reported how positive self-concept or self-efficacy facilitated

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students academic engagement, goal-setting, task choice, persistence and


effort, intrinsic motivation, strategy use, performance and achievement, and
even career selection (see discussion under the Predictive Outcomes below). Despite the vast volume of evidence attesting to the powerful nature
of these constructs, it is not always easy to locate specific factors or workable strategies to enhance these beliefs to realize such desirable outcomes.
This difficulty is in part due to the hazy distinction between self-concept and
self-efficacy, which thwarts any synthesis or integration efforts of the sort.
The rather subtle conceptual distinction between self-concept and selfefficacy applies equally to these academic self-perceptions. Because now
they are both dealing with the same academic domain, it is conceivably
more difficult to identify the critical distinction between these two constructs.
Theoretical definitions alone are often not enough to point out specific dimensions on which they are believed to be similar or different. It becomes
much easier to distinguish academic self-concept from academic self-efficacy
and vice versa when provided with operational definitions of each. On one
hand, the clearer divergence of operational definitions may indicate that the
differences between the two constructs have been exaggerated because of
the different assessment and analytic strategies that are associated with each
theory (Bong and Clark, 1999; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1996a). On the other
hand, operational definitions are manifestation of implicit and explicit theoretical tenets and, as such, may reflect genuine differences between these
two constructs. Rather than comparing conceptual definitions that are sometimes obscure on how best to capture the construct in question, we start with
analyzing the current and representative operationalizations of academic
self-concept and academic self-efficacy.
By far, the most commonly used method of measuring both constructs
is self-reports. Items that are typically used to assess academic self-concept
include Schoolwork is easy for me, I have always done well in (a subject),
and Compared with others my age, Im good at (a subject). Students indicate how much they agree with each of these statements on 15, 16, or 17
response scales. It is worth noting that there exist different views among researchers regarding whether academic self-concept also includes emotional
reactions to the tasks such as interest, enjoyment, and satisfaction. Some
regard these as part of self-concept, whereas others consider them a distinct
construct. Researchers who endorse the former view add items such as I am
interested in (a subject) and I look forward to (a subject) to academic selfconcept assessment (Marsh, 1999a, 1999b). Other researchers (e.g., Eccles
and Wigfield, 1995; Eccles, Wigfield, and Schiefele, 1998; Wigfield, Eccles,
Mac Iver, Reuman, and Midgley, 1991) make clear conceptual distinctions
between ability- or expectancy-related perceptions and task-value components (e.g., interest, importance, usefulness). The issue of whether or not

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the competence and affective components of self-concept are empirically


distinguishable has not been resolved.
Another procedure that is frequently used to measure academic selfconcept of young children involves presenting two contrasting descriptions
of hypothetical children. For example, a statement, Some kids do very well
at their classwork, is written on the left column of a page. An opposite
statement, Other kids dont do very well at their classwork, is on the right
column. Children first select which of the two statements describes them
better. They then judge whether the selected statement is really true for
them or just sort of true for them (Harter, 1982; Harter and Pike, 1984). This
assessment procedure yields self-concept response scores that range from 1
to 4 on each item.
The standard method of measuring academic self-efficacy is to present
problems that are similar to the actual problems students must solve. Students estimate their confidence that they can solve each problem correctly
(e.g., Bandura and Schunk, 1981). Alternatively, academic self-efficacy items
may include written descriptions of problems or tasks in place of actual
problemsfor example, How sure are you that you can correctly spell all
words in a one-page story or composition? (Pajares, Miller, and Johnson,
1999), How confident are you that you can successfully solve equations
containing square roots? (Bong, 2002) or How confident are you that you
will get a grade better than a B in mathematics at the end of this term?
(Zimmerman and Bandura, 1994). Students rate the degree of their confidence for successfully accomplishing each task on a 0100 or 10100 scale
in 10-unit intervals. A score of 0 represents absolute lack of confidence and
a 100 represents complete confidence. Other self-efficacy items include I
expect to do very well in (a subject) class and I am sure that I can do
an excellent job on the problems and tasks assigned for (a subject) class
(Pintrich and De Groot, 1990). As was the case with self-concept items, respondents mark how much they agree with each of these efficacy statements
on a Likert-type response scale.
A quick glance at these items makes evident several features that can
be easily overlooked when given only the theoretical definition of each construct. First of all, despite several apparent differences in assessment procedures, both constructs seem to call for a subjective judgment of perceived
competence in reference to some target domain or activities. In addition to
the cognitive appraisal of ones competence, academic self-concept assessment also often inquires about students affective reactions to the recognized
self and its attributes. Items such as I enjoy doing work in (a subject), I
hate (a subject), and I never want to take another (subject) course (Marsh,
1990b) exemplify this. In judging self-efficacy, respondents make largely
cognitive evaluations of their perceived capability without deliberately

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reflecting on their feelings generated by those evaluations (Zimmerman,


1996).
The nature of self-concept and self-efficacy evaluations differ from one
another. Assessing ones capability in academic self-concept relies heavily
on social comparative information and reflected appraisals from significant
others. Items such as Compared with others my age, Im good at (a subject) or In (a subject), I am one of the best students in my class are commonly found in self-concept scales (e.g., Marsh, 1999a). Some self-concept
researchers suggest that students further compare their academic capability in one domain to their capability in other domains. Such ipsative comparison makes performance improvement in one domain cause decrease in selfconcepts in other areas (Marsh, 1986). In contrast, self-efficacy items solicit
goal-referenced evaluation and do not directly ask students to compare their
ability to those of others. Although normative information wields tangible influence on self-efficacy estimation at times, efficacy is gauged mainly against
concrete performance standards (Bong and Clark, 1999; Zimmerman,
1996).
Academic self-concept items typically refer to specific school subjects,
whereas self-efficacy items most often refer to specific tasks. Both constructs
are thus closely tied to academic content areas. However, it is noticeable
that the expected performance or features of the outcome against which to
evaluate ones competence are not explicitly stated in self-concept items.
The lack of context-specific information leads students to make some aggregated judgments of their competence in the given area. Self-efficacy items
provide respondents with a specific description of required performance as
a referent against which to appraise their competence. Judgments formed
as a result of such appraisal are not only specific to certain academic content but also specific to given performance contexts. Self-concept is organized in multidimensional and hierarchical fashion such that self-concepts
in more specific domains are subsumed under self-concepts in more general
domains (Shavelson et al., 1976). Self-efficacy beliefs are also multidimensional in the sense that students form differentiated perceptions of capability across diverse tasks and domains. Relationships among these beliefs
are only loosely hierarchical because self-efficacy in more general areas may
not sufficiently incorporate particularities of diverse contexts that influence
self-efficacy judgments toward more specific tasks.
The theoretical and operational definitions of the constructs, when compared, also create the impression that self-concept embodies fairly stable
perceptions of the self that are past-oriented, whereas self-efficacy represents relatively malleable and future-oriented conceptions of the self and its
potential. Despite these differences, self-concept and self-efficacy are used
to predict a fairly similar set of outcomes including motivation, emotion, and

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Table I. Comparison Between Academic Self-Concept and Academic Self-Efficacy
Comparison
dimensions

Academic
self-concept

Academic
self-efficacy

1. Working definition

Knowledge and perceptions


about oneself in
achievement situations

2. Central element
3. Composition

Perceived competence
Cognitive and affective
appraisal of self
Normative and ipsative

Convictions for
successfully performing
given academic tasks at
designated levels
Perceived confidence
Cognitive appraisal of self

4. Nature of competence
evaluation
5. Judgment specificity
6. Dimensionality
7. Structure
8. Time orientation
9. Temporal stability
10. Predictive outcomes

Domain-specific
Multidimensional
Hierarchical
Past-oriented
Stable
Motivation, emotion, and
performance

Goal-referenced and
normative
Domain-specific and
context-specific
Multidimensional
Loosely hierarchical
Future-oriented
Malleable
Motivation, emotion,
cognitive and
self-regulatory processes,
and performance

performance. In addition, self-efficacy predicts cognitive and self-regulatory


processes. Table I lists the working definition of academic self-concept and
self-efficacy used in this article and summarizes the key dimensions of comparison including central element, composition, nature of competence evaluation, judgment specificity, dimensionality, structure, temporal stability, and
predictive outcomes. Below we elaborate and present evidence for the purported similarities and differences on each of these dimensions.
CENTRAL ELEMENT
One of the most glaring similarities between the conceptualization of
self-concept and self-efficacy is the central role played by ones competence
perceptions. Perceived competence in defined domains or activities comprises
the single most critical element in both self-beliefs (Eccles et al., 1998). Contemporary academic self-concept researchers assert that students perceptions of competence in given areas provide key ingredients to their selfconcepts (e.g., Harter, 1982; Marsh, 1990a, 1992; Shavelson and Bolus, 1982;
Wigfield et al., 1997; Wigfield and Karpathian, 1991). Perceived capability
in reference to specific academic tasks and domains is also the principal
constituent of academic self-efficacy judgments (Pajares, 1996).
Many researchers recognize that academic self-concept includes a selfefficacy component and that this component may be the most important

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11

building block in ones self-concept (Bong and Clark, 1999; Schunk, 1991).
Pajares (1996) suspected that at the domain level of specificity, academic
self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs might not be separable. Thus far, researchers have reported that students responses to the Self Description
Questionnaire, one of the popular self-concept scales, formed two separate
factors: cognitive and motivational (Skaalvik and Rankin, 1996a; Tanzer,
1996). The cognitive academic self-concept factor was empirically indistinguishable from the academic self-efficacy factor (Pietsch, 1999; Skaalvik
and Rankin, 1996a). Because few studies have addressed the equivalence
of self-concept and self-efficacy responses systematically, it is still premature
to draw any firm conclusion regarding the nature of relationship between
these two constructs. At minimum, many empirical investigations need to
be conducted.
At present, there is still some room for debate whether the perceived
competence component in self-concept is indeed identical to percepts of
self-efficacy. For example, different information sources have been known
to affect the two self-systems to different degrees, as is shown later in this
article. The two self-beliefs, in turn, have sometimes yielded different psychological and behavioral outcomes. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to
assume, on the basis of limited available evidence, that there is at least considerable overlap in the makeup of academic self-concept and academic
self-efficacy and that perception of academic capability is the major common denominator between the two.
COMPOSITION
Although perceived capability constitutes the core in contemporary
views of academic self-concept, self-concept has long been recognized to reflect more than ones competence perceptions. Scheirer and Kraut (1979), for
example, argued that self-concept consists of at least four distinguishable aspects. These include descriptive categorization of self in terms of social roles
and personality traits, evaluation of the self-attributes according to social desirability, comparison of qualities through which individuals determine their
ranking relative to other people on a specific dimension, and emotional attitudes toward the selfcalled self-esteem. More recently, Skaalvik (1997a)
distinguished between descriptive, evaluative, and affective/motivational
aspects of self-concept. However, consistent with the observation of
Shavelson et al. (1976), he claimed that a clear empirical distinction between self-description and self-evaluation often could not be made. He wrote
. . . self-conceptions like I am tall and I learn mathematics easily include both descriptive and evaluative aspects. The descriptive or cognitive component represents

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knowledge and beliefs that a person has about herself or himself in different areas
(see Markus, 1977); for example, the belief that he or she learns mathematics easily.
However, a persons belief that he or she learns mathematics easily is also the result
of an evaluation. When a person describes himself as clever in mathematics this
description can therefore not be distinguished from the persons evaluation of her
or his mathematics abilities. I shall therefore refer to this aspect of self-concept as
descriptive/evaluative. (p. 53)

With specific regard to self-concept in the academic domain, Skaalvik


(1997a) argued that its descriptive/evaluative aspect (e.g., I learn mathematics easily) could be distinguished from its affective/motivational aspect
(e.g., I am proud of my mathematics ability or I like mathematics). In
a similar vein, Bong and Clark (1999) suggested that academic self-concept
consists of cognitive and affective dimensions and that a cognitive dimension is further differentiated into descriptions and evaluations of self and its
attributes. We conjecture that the cognitive dimension of self-concept gives
rise to the affective/motivational reactions. For instance, conceiving oneself as smart almost unanimously engenders positive emotional responses
(Covington, 1984b, 1992). Because ability to achieve competently is highly
valued, students who regard themselves as smart and competent usually feel
good about that aspect of their self-description. These affective evaluations
toward the self are believed to have important implications for further motivation. As Wigfield and Karpathian (1991) noted, children avoid academic
tasks and situations that are likely to make them feel bad about themselves
in an attempt to maintain positive self-regard (see also Covington, 1984a).
The tendency to avoid negative information about the self is in line with
predictions of the social comparison theory. Academic self-concept is largely
determined by the result of social comparison and such comparison with similar others is believed to result in strong emotional consequences (Festinger,
1954). These presumed emotional reactions might explain why some of the
theoretical as well as operational definitions of academic self-concept include a mixture of components that deal with students cognition, affect,
and motivation in domains under consideration. Instruments intended to
measure academic self-concept vary with respect to which of these different
aspects they stress. For example, although Harter (1998) fully acknowledged
the importance of affect in many theoretical conceptualizations of self and
its integration with cognitive and social processes, she nonetheless made a
distinction between perceived competence, anxiety, and motivational orientation (Silon and Harter, 1985). Her self-concept instrument, the Perceived Competence Scale, concentrates on childrens perceptions of competence, the dimension she believed most central to childrens self-evaluation
(Harter, 1982). Expectancy-value theorists (e.g., Eccles and Wigfield, 1995;
Eccles et al., 1998; Wigfield et al., 1991) also distinguish between perceived
competence from task-value perceptions.

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In comparison, the Self Description Questionnaire developed by Marsh


and his associates (e.g., Marsh, 1999b) combines the cognitive (e.g., I do
badly in tests of mathematics) and affective/motivational aspects of selfconcept (e.g., I hate mathematics). Recent research suggests that these
two dimensions of self-concept do form separate factors (Pietsch, 1999;
Skaalvik and Rankin, 1996b; Tanzer, 1996). Chapman and Tunmer (1995,
Experiments 3 and 4) also reported that a three-factor model best explained
students responses to the Reading Self-Concept Scale. The three factors
were perceptions of difficulty with reading, perceptions of competence in
reading, and attitudes toward reading. Intercorrelations among these subcomponents and their relations with measures of reading skills differed in
different age groups. Again, these questions on the internal composition
of academic self-conceptwhether cognitive and affective components are
both part of self-concept or whether they need to be treated as separate
constructsare a relatively recent issue in self-concept research. Although
investigators cited above reported evidence of separability between these
components, most existing academic self-concept scales have not yet incorporated such a distinction explicitly. As such, it seems reasonable to say that
academic self-concept measures tend to reflect multiple aspects of the self,
including some forms of cognitive evaluations and affective reactions.
Measures of academic self-efficacy are designed to tap exclusively the
cognitive aspect of students self-perceptions. Self-efficacy measures ask students to judge how well they can execute particular courses of actions. Obviously, this judgment involves an evaluation of what one is and is not capable
of performing. Hence, the cognitive aspects of both self-concept and selfefficacy measures include a strong evaluative component, although there
may be a distinct difference in the nature of these evaluations and the emotions that are generated thereafter. Even though measures of academic selfefficacy never refer to affective or motivational responses directly, the theory presumes that self-efficacy beliefs determine subsequent motivation and
emotion through a self-regulatory mechanism (Bandura, 1986; Pajares and
Miller, 1994; Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997; Zimmerman, 2000). Bandura
(1986) claimed that . . . those who regard themselves as inefficacious . . .
suffer much anxiety and stress (p. 395). Several studies showed that selfefficacy is indeed a strong predictor of anxiety and depression (Bandura,
Pastorelli, Barbaranelli, and Caprara, 1999; Pajares et al., 1999; Pajares and
Kranzler, 1995; Pajares and Miller, 1994).
In sum, both academic self-concept and academic self-efficacy perceptions are related to how students feel about themselves. Self-concept researchers traditionally tend to view these emotional and motivational orientations as an important aspect of self-image that needs to be integrated in the
definition of the construct. Self-efficacy researchers similarly acknowledge

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the close link between cognitive self-perceptions and affective self-reactions.


However, they consider these motivational and emotional responses as
mainly a correlate or consequence of perceived self-efficacy and not a necessary constituent for defining self-efficacy beliefs. Self-processes such as
intrinsic interest/value or self-satisfaction/affect are linked to self-efficacy
within the cyclical self-regulatory processes (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997;
Zimmerman, 2000).

NATURE OF COMPETENCE EVALUATION


The social comparison theory of Festinger (1954) suggests that, when
objective standards of comparison are not provided, people appraise themselves using significant others in their immediate environment as the bases
of comparison. Many self-concept investigations demonstrated the effects
of social comparison on academic self-concept. For example, Rogers, Smith,
and Coleman (1978) rank-ordered and assigned students to high-, medium-,
and low-achieving groups either on the basis of their within-classroom rankings or on the basis of their achievement scores irrespective of their withinclassroom standing. Across reading and math, significant group differences
on various academic and nonacademic self-concepts were observed only
when the trichotomy was conducted in the context of students classrooms.
The investigators thus concluded, the most meaningful way to understand
the relation between academic achievement and self-concept is within the
context of the social comparison group or classroom (p. 56). Because performance standards are only implicitly alluded to in self-concept assessment,
students often engage in social comparison processes as an alternative way
of evaluating how good they are or how well they do academically.
Social comparison effects on self-concept were documented with
special populations. Renick and Harter (1989) found that a majority of
learning disabled students spontaneously compared themselves to regular
classroom students when reporting their self-concepts. When they did, their
self-concepts suffered. Coleman and Fults (1982) reported analogous findings with gifted students. Students identified as gifted and who subsequently
participated in the special gifted program soon formed less favorable views
of themselves, presumably because of their new, comparably performing
peers. Those who stayed in the regular classes maintained their high selfconcept. Because social comparison is one of the most powerful sources of
evaluative information for judging self-concept (Marsh, 1990d, 1993), students in the high-ability schools often experience loss in their academic selfconcept. Marsh (1987) observed that, after the difference in individual ability
was controlled for, school-average ability demonstrated negative effects on

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students academic self-concept. In other words, students judge themselves


less capable in the environment with highly able students and more capable
in the environment with less able peers. Marsh termed this social comparison
effect on self-concept the big-fishlittle-pond effect.
Another comparative frame of reference thought to influence academic self-concept is internal comparison. Marsh (1986) argued that students base their academic self-concepts in a particular subject not only on
how their ability compares with those of other students (i.e., social or external comparison) but also on how their ability in that subject compares
with their abilities in other subjects (i.e., internal comparison). Internal
comparison is presumed to create a negative relationship between achievement in one domain and self-concept in other domains. For example, as
students achievement levels in math improve, their math self-concepts also
improve. At the same time, their recent success in math is more likely to
make them believe that their math ability is better than their verbal ability. This recognition subsequently lowers their verbal self-concepts. The
joint effects of internal and external comparisons (hence the I/E model)
are assumed to balance each other out, resulting in a near-zero correlation between math and verbal self-concepts. The external or social comparison tends to result in a positive correlation between students verbal
and math self-concepts because verbal and math achievements are often
highly correlated. The internal comparison presumably yields a negative
correlation between students verbal and math self-concepts. Depending
on the weight assigned to each comparison, relationships between verbal
and math self-concepts can be positive or negative but almost always substantially reduced in magnitude from the corresponding relationships between achievements. Predictions of the I/E model are supported in a number
of studies (Marsh, 1990b; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1992, 1995; but see Bong,
1998).
Peoples inferences about themselves are also affected by how others
perceive them. Reflected appraisals from significant others provide useful
information for molding ones self-concept. In his classic volume on selfconcept, Rosenberg (1979) refers to a large body of research indicating that
individuals actually tend to view themselves as they are seen by others.
Students are believed to shape their academic self-concept in part on the
basis of their impressions of how their parents, teachers, and peers appraise
their academic ability (Harter, 1990). In the absence of absolute standards
against which to estimate ones capabilities, students determine how good
they are in the given subject by comparing their ability to those of their
peers and, at the same time, monitoring other peoples appraisals of their
ability. Reflected appraisals function as an important source of evaluative
information in academic self-concept formation.

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In contrast, a sense of academic self-efficacy is most heavily affected


by ones previous encounters with the same or similar tasks (Bong, 1997;
Bong and Clark, 1999; Zimmerman, 1995). As discussed earlier, individuals
own prior mastery experiences carry heavier weight in self-efficacy appraisal
than vicarious information, verbal persuasion, or physiological reactions
(Bandura, 1977). Because students gauge their confidence for success against
goals and standards, there is less reason for them to engage in vigorous social
comparison. Instead, they calibrate their chances of successfully carrying out
the described performance at designated levels (Schunk, 1991). Self-efficacy
judgments are hence goal-referenced evaluations that are less affected by
relativistic impressions. Although self-efficacy is less influenced by social
comparison than is self-concept, social comparative information provides
critical information for judging efficacy under certain circumstances. Students often gather efficacy-related cues by observing teachers and peers,
especially when the task is novel or when there exists no clear and immediate standard for evaluating performance (e.g., Schunk, 1981; Schunk et al.,
1987; Schunk and Hanson, 1985). In general, if the observers judge their
ability to be comparable to the models capability, successes and failures of
the model have stronger effect on the observers self-efficacy (Schunk et al.,
1987).
The internal comparison processes described by the I/E model (Marsh,
1986) do not seem relevant in self-efficacy estimation. Predictions from the
I/E model are not supported by academic self-efficacy measures (Bong, 1998;
Marsh, Walker, and Debus, 1991; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1990). More specifically, verbal and math self-efficacy perceptions usually demonstrate a strong
positive correlation that is commensurate with the corresponding correlation between verbal and math achievements. Moreover, high achievement
in the verbal area does not necessarily lower efficacy judgments in math or
vice versa.
On the other hand, reflected appraisals are implicit in self-efficacy judgments. Verbal persuasion by credible others is known to influence perceptions of self-efficacy. Verbal persuasion, in effect, is a concrete manifestation
of how a person is perceived or evaluated by significant others. It was pointed
out above that when the task is novel or when the criteria for success are not
clear, students estimate their efficacy perceptions primarily on the basis of social comparative information (Bandura, 1977). Under such circumstances,
their efficacy beliefs are also more heavily swayed by verbal persuasion
of significant and knowledgeable others. However, percepts of efficacy instilled purely by verbal persuasion can only be maintained when followed by
successful mastery experiences. Self-efficacy increase to an unrealistic level
wanes quickly by disappointing failures. Therefore, the difference between
self-concept and self-efficacy regarding social comparison and reflected

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appraisals is one of degree. These sources of information are regarded less


powerful for self-efficacy adjustment than for self-concept development. Internal comparison only influences self-concept.

JUDGMENT SPECIFICITY
Students express academic self-concept and academic self-efficacy that
are both domain-specific. Domain-specificity of self-perceptions is ascertained when these perceptions are differentiated clearly across different content areas and when they relate only to relevant outcomes in the same content
area and not to those in different areas. Because academic self-perceptions
are commonly assessed at the school subject level (e.g., math self-concept),
domain-specificity is often viewed synonymous to subject-specificity. Although subject-specificity certainly attests to the domain-specificity of a construct, the term domain-specificity should not be equated to a particular
measurement level. Rather, a domain can represent from relatively limited
skill areas such as reading comprehension in English to broader content
areas such as social science.
Although both constructs are associated with certain a degree of
domain-specificity, traditional measures of self-concept and self-efficacy differ with respect to the level of measurement specificity (Pajares, 1996). Academic self-concept, even when assessed in reference to particular domains,
has been measured at more general levels. Students typically report their
overall feelings of doing well or poorly in given subject areas. Compared with
the self-concept assessment, beliefs of self-efficacy have been examined at
more specific levels, usually in the context of performing specific tasks within
a particular domain. Self-efficacy has also been measured at a more general
level beyond particularized tasks or academic subjects. The primary reason
for assessing self-efficacy at different levels of specificity, both specific and
general, has been to ensure correspondence between self-efficacy perceptions and performance criterion. For example, when the researchers goal
is to predict performance of broader scope such as course grades and overall grade point averages, perceived self-efficacy at correspondingly broader
levels are assessed (e.g., Pajares and Miller, 1995; Randhawa, Beamer, and
Lundberg, 1993; Zimmerman, Bandura, and Martinez-Pons, 1992).
Researchers express little disagreement as regards the purported differences between task-specific academic self-efficacy and subject-specific
academic self-concept (e.g., Marsh et al., 1991; Pajares, 1996). However,
when the two constructs are put side by side at the same level of measurement specificity, the opposing arguments collide. Academic self-efficacy researchers express pessimistic views that self-concept can ever be assessed at

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task-specific or problem-specific levels (Bong and Clark, 1999; Pajares, 1996).


Academic self-concept researchers, on the other hand, question the practical
utility of self-efficacy judgments beyond what they view as microlevel analyses of performance. The problem worsens because both self-concept and
self-efficacy theories contend that their construct can be assessed at varying
levels of measurement specificity (Bandura, 1997; Shavelson et al., 1976).
Self-concept items rarely specify what constitutes successful academic
performance. This omission forces respondents to come up with aggregated
evaluations of themselves in the particular domain. Rosenberg (1968) once
stated that . . . a mans global self-esteem is not based solely on his assessment of his constituent qualities; it is based on his self-assessments of
qualities that count (p. 339). This seems true for global self-esteem and applicable to domain-specific self-concepts. Students are asked to make evaluations of their competence in academic domains without being provided with
explicit information about criteria. Specific performance criteria that individuals should take into account in appraising their competence are largely
left to the individuals to decide. As a result, competence information that
is most salient and readily accessible in ones self-schema in the domain of
interest tends to dominate the perceptions of self.
An important requirement in the self-efficacy measurement is that it
should be tailored so as to directly correspond to the specific target performance (Bandura, 1997; Pajares, 1996; Zimmerman, 1995). The problem
of aggregating different dimensions and impressions regarding the self thus
becomes fairly irrelevant in academic self-efficacy estimation. Ordinarily, important features of tasks that could wield tangible influence on performance
outcomes are clearly spelled out in self-efficacy items (Bandura, 1997). This
context-specificity helps respondents to focus on the suggested dimensions
and to reach more accurate assessment of their capabilities regarding the
particular tasks (Mischel, 1977). Stronger relations of academic self-efficacy
beliefs with diverse performance measures have been reported when the
content and specificity of self-efficacy measures corresponded closely with
criterial performance (Joo, Bong, and Choi, 2000; Multon, Brown, and Lent,
1991; Pajares and Miller, 1995).
One recent study provides a good example that highlights the differences between the measurements of two constructs. Lau, Yeung, Jin, and
Low (1999) assessed four skill-specific self-concepts in English: listening,
speaking, reading, and writing self-concepts. If we strictly concern ourselves
with the measurement specificity of the scale, these skill-specific academic
self-concepts appear to be at the same level of specificity as task-specific
academic self-efficacy (e.g., writing self-efficacy; Pajares et al., 1999). When
we examine the questions, however, we soon realize that the difference
is more profound than the measurement level per se. Lau et al. assessed

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students self-concepts in different skill areas by substituting the school subject portion of the Self Description Questionnaire items with each skill area.
For example, English speaking self-concept was assessed with items such as
Compared with other students, Im good at speaking (in English), Im
hopeless when it comes to speaking (in English), and I have always done
well in speaking (in English). Respondents were students in Hong Kong
who were enrolled in English-as-a-second-language program.
In providing definitions of these skills, the authors wrote, to these students, listening typically refers to understanding English speeches in formal
and social situations and in academic and nonacademic contexts; speaking
refers to activities such as the delivery of a talk or having a conversation with
another person in class and out of class; reading refers to the comprehension
of written prose, understanding of vocabulary, and study for academic and
nonacademic purposes; and writing refers to written work leading to essays,
reports, and all other work in the written form as required academically in
their respective disciplines at the university (p. 749). However, these are
assumptions made by the researchers on how each skill would be interpreted
by respondents. When students respond to an item, Compared with other
students, Im good at speaking in English, some of them may try to evaluate
their competence on the basis of their capability for carrying out casual English conversations, whereas others may concentrate on their ineptness for
making public speeches and class presentations in English. The assessment
levels are now skill-specific, but the aggregated judgments of competence in
each skill area are still being solicited.
It is perhaps a useful exercise to try to come up with self-efficacy items
for this particular skill area. An assumption is made that the target of prediction is students proficiency in speaking in English in their everyday life.
Three items are readily conceivable on the basis of the authors definition of
speaking in English (Lau et al., 1999): How confident are you that you can
successfully deliver a talk in English in front of your class? How confident
are you that you can carry out English conversations in class? and How
confident are you that you can successfully carry out conversations in English
outside your class? More detailed examples of academic self-concept and
self-efficacy items at task-specific and subject-specific levels of measurement
specificity are provided in Tables II and III, respectively. Again, regardless of
whether the measurement level is specific or general, self-concept items seek
out students overall reactions toward the given area, whereas self-efficacy
items specify different aspects or levels in the expected target performance.
Earlier, we suggested that domain-specificity is further demonstrated
when self-perceptions in one area relate only to relevant outcomes in the
same content area and not to those in different areas. Academic self-concept
researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that students self-concept in a

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Table II. Sample Academic Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy Items at Task-Specific Measurement
Levels (e.g., Writing)
Writing self-concept
I have always done well in
writing.
Work in writing is easy for me.
Compared with others my age I
am good at writing.
I get good marks in writing.
I learn things quickly in writing.
Im hopeless when it comes to
writing.a
It is important to me to do well
in writing.
I am satisfied with how well I
do in writing.

Writing self-efficacy
How confident are you that you can . . .
correctly spell all words in a one-page story or
composition?
correctly punctuate a one-page story or composition?
correctly use parts of speech such as nouns, verbs,
adjectives, or adverbs?
write a simple sentence with good grammar?
correctly use singulars and plurals, verb tenses,
prefixes, and suffixes?
write a strong paragraph that has a good topic sentence
or main idea?
write a paragraph with details that support the topic
sentence or main idea?
organize sentences into a paragraph that clearly
expresses an idea?
write a well-organized and well-sequenced paper that
has a good introduction, body, and conclusion?

Note. Self-concept items were adapted from the Academic Self Description Questionnaire I
(Marsh, 1999a); Self-efficacy items were reprinted from Pajares, Miller, and Johnson (1999)
with permission from the first author.
a Negatively worded items.

particular school subject relates most strongly with achievement indexes


in the same subject area. Its relations to achievement measures in other
school subjects are considerably weaker (e.g., Byrne and Shavelson, 1986;
Marsh, 1992; Marsh, Byrne, and Shavelson, 1988; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1995;
Skaalvik and Vals, 1999). Self-efficacy investigators typically include measures that belong to a single academic domain and, as such, have not frequently tested whether the within-domain relations between self-efficacy
and performance are stronger than their cross-domain relations. However,
several recent studies reported evidence of strong content-specificity of academic self-efficacy beliefs that is comparable to that obtained in academic
self-concept research. Joo et al. (2000), for instance, measured students biology self-efficacy, Internet self-efficacy, written biology test performance, and
Internet biology test performance during Web-based instruction in biology.
Students biology self-efficacy predicted their written biology test scores,
whereas students self-efficacy for using the Internet predicted their biology
test performance based on the Internet search. Bong (2002) also reported
that when multiple self-efficacy and achievement indexes in English and
math entered the same predictive equation, English self-efficacy emerged as
the sole predictor of English performances, with math self-efficacy as the sole

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Table III.

21

Sample Academic Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy Items at Subject-Specific


Measurement Levels (e.g., Math)

Math self-concept
Mathematics is one of my best
subjects
I often need help in
mathematics.a
I look forward to mathematics
classes.
I have trouble understanding
anything with mathematics in
it.a
I enjoy studying for
mathematics.a
I do badly in tests of
mathematics.a
I get good marks in
mathematics.
I never want to take another
mathematics course.a
I have always done well in
mathematics.
I hate mathematics.a

Math self-efficacy
How confident are you that you can . . .
pass mathematics at the end of this term?
pass mathematics at the end of this term with a grade
better than a D?
get a grade better than a D+ in mathematics?
get a grade better than a C in mathematics?
get a grade better than a C in mathematics?
get a grade better than a C+ in mathematics?
get a grade better than a B in mathematics?
get a grade better than a B in mathematics?
get a grade better than a B+ in mathematics?
get a grade better than an A in mathematics?
get an A in mathematics?

Note. Self-concept items were reprinted from the Self Description Questionnaire II (Marsh,
1999b); Self-efficacy items were adapted from Zimmerman and Bandura (1994) with
permission from the first author.
a Negatively worded items.

predictor of math performances. Relations of self-efficacy in one academic


domain to performance scores in the other domain were not significant.
Therefore, although the context-specificity issue is still a ground for much
debate, evidence is fairly consistent that both academic self-beliefs reflect
domain-specific judgments.
DIMENSIONALITY AND STRUCTURE
Self-concept is a multidimensional construct that is differentiated across
domains of functioning. These domain-specific perceptions are hierarchically
structured with the most general perceptions at the apex of the hierarchy
(Shavelson et al., 1976). With regard to the academic arena, Shavelson et
al. hypothesized that a general academic self-concept would subsume more
area-specific self-concepts. Although their basic tenets of multidimensionality and hierarchy of self-concept still hold, researchers later discovered that
the nature of academic self-concept hierarchy was slightly different from
what Shavelson et al. originally envisioned. Specifically, students academic

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self-concepts in the verbal and math areas are so weakly correlated that they
cannot be represented by a single general academic self-concept (Byrne and
Shavelson, 1986; Marsh, 1990c; Marsh et al., 1988). Consequently, the academic portion of the Shavelson hierarchy was revised to represent two
verbal and mathhigher order academic self-concept factors (Marsh and
Shavelson, 1985).
Although the multidimensionality of self-concept is rarely disputed, researchers do not always agree on the hierarchical nature of self-concept
structure (Harter, 1990). Many different orientations exist as regards the
internal structure of self-concept (Byrne, 1984, 1996). Harter (1998) questioned the validity of self-concept hierarchy stating that . . . one has to
ask whether the statistical structure extracted does, in fact, mirror the psychological structure as it is phenomenologically experienced by individuals
(p. 579). Evidence is not conclusive (Marsh and Yeung, 1998) but tends to
support potential self-concept hierarchy (Byrne and Shavelson, 1986; Byrne
and Worth Gavin, 1996; Vispoel, 1995). Several recent studies demonstrated
that skill-specific self-concepts within a domain (i.e., speaking, reading, and
writing English self-concepts) formed a higher order English self-concept
factor. Moreover, this second-order English self-concept factor was found
to be equivalent to an independently assessed global English self-concept
factor. English self-concepts that were empirically extracted from more specific self-concept factors demonstrated correlation coefficients close to 1.0
with directly assessed English self-concepts (Lau et al., 1999; Yeung et al.,
2000, Studies 3 and 5). These investigations provide much stronger support
for the hierarchical nature of academic self-concept.
Evidence suggests that academic self-efficacy perceptions may also form
a multidimensional and what can be described as a loosely hierarchical
structure. Students make reliable differentiation between their self-efficacy
judgments across different academic domains (Bong, 1997; Bong and Hocevar, in press). The degree of such differentiation varies somewhat depending
on gender, grade, and levels of prior knowledge (Bong, 1999, 2001a). Students also make a distinction, within a given subject area, between their
efficacy beliefs at different levels of measurement specificity (Bong, 2001b;
Lent, Brown, and Gore, 1997) or toward different aspects of required skills
(Shell, Colvin, and Bruning, 1995; Shell, Murphy, and Bruning, 1989). As
was the case with academic self-concept, two higher order factors, verbal
and quantitative academic self-efficacy, normally embrace more area-specific
academic self-efficacy beliefs. This finding is consistently observed regardless
of whether self-efficacy beliefs were assessed with specific problems (Bong,
1997) or with subject-level self-efficacy statements (e.g., Im certain that I
can do an excellent job on the problems and tasks assigned for [a specific
subject] class; Bong, 2001a).

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However, questions still remain as to whether the internal structure of


self-efficacy belief resembles the hierarchical organization of self-concept.
Although Bongs series of studies (Bong, 1997, 1999, 2001a, 2001b) provided enough evidence to confirm the generality and multidimensionality
of academic self-efficacy beliefs, they have not yet provided direct evidence
to confirm the hierarchical organization of self-efficacy beliefs. It needs to
be demonstrated, as self-concept researchers have (Lau et al., 1999; Yeung
et al., 2000), that the common factor underlying more specific self-efficacy
beliefs is equivalent in content to the self-efficacy beliefs that are directly
assessed at the more general level. Even when such an attempt could be
successful empirically, Bandura (1986) warns against the danger in coming
up with such a simplified measure and questions its usefulness in predicting behavior. He wrote, The most informative efficacy analysis requires
detailed assessment of the level, strength, and generality of perceived selfefficacy commensurate with the particularity and perceptions with which
performance is measured. . . . particularized measures of self-percepts
of efficacy surpass global measures in explanatory and predictive power
(p. 397).
There has been at least one consistent discrepancy between what appear
to be otherwise similar internal structures. While academic self-concepts in
verbal and math areas are nearly uncorrelated (Byrne and Shavelson, 1986;
Marsh et al., 1988; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1995), verbal and math academic
self-efficacy are almost always highly correlated (Bong, 1997, 2001a; Marsh
et al., 1991; Skaalvik and Rankin, 1995). Whether this difference reflects a
true construct-related difference or some artifact of methodological procedures is not yet known. As discussed previously, the internal and external
frames of reference model of academic self-concept (Marsh, 1986; Marsh
et al., 1991) explains the near-zero correlation between verbal and math
self-concepts as a result of simultaneous operation of internal and external
comparison processes. Students do not undergo internal comparison processes when judging their self-efficacy (Bong, 1998) and, therefore, express
efficacy beliefs in different domains that are more highly correlated.
Recently, Bong and Hocevar (in press) compared three academic selfefficacy scales that differed in terms of measurement specificity, using a multitrait, multimethod framework. Academic self-efficacy factors at different
levels of specificity were positively correlated within each domain. Further,
the types of problems/tasks included in the measure and the subject areas from which these problems/tasks were drawn concomitantly determined
students responses to problem-specific and task-specific self-efficacy items.
In contrast, students responses to subject-specific self-efficacy items were
more or less uniform within each academic domain and did not differ much
by the individual items. More interestingly, students percepts of efficacy in

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different school subjects were most highly correlated when assessed with specific problems and least highly correlated when assessed with subject-level
statements. Compared with self-efficacy studies, an overwhelming majority
of contemporary academic self-concept studies use more general-level measures (e.g., Self Description Questionnaire, Perceived Competence Scale).
This finding, therefore, suggests the possibility that the difference in the
strengths of relations between verbal and math self-concepts might have
been created, at least in part, by the different assessment specificity.

TIME ORIENTATION
It is worth noting that most academic self-concept items begin with
phrases that read I am good . . ., I am hopeless . . ., or I have done
well . . . (see Byrne, 1996). Self-efficacy items usually start with How
confident are you that you can . . .? How well can you . . .? or I am
confident that I will be able to . . . (see also Pajares, 1996). The wording
of self-concept items tends to direct the attention of respondents toward
their past accomplishments, whereas that of self-efficacy items focuses the
attention of students on their future expectancies (see Wigfield and Eccles,
2000, for related discussion).
Although self-concept and self-efficacy items make salient the past or
the future time frames, respectively, both types of judgments are primarily
a product of past experiences. Even when self-concept items refer to the
current self, for example, Mathematics is easy for me, such judgments can
only be formed on the basis of ones mathematics achievements in the past.
As pointed out by Markus and Nurius (1986), self-concepts are past-oriented
because relevant information and experiences need to be processed by selfschemas and these schemas are created from individuals past experiences in
a particular domain. Self-efficacy perceptions are inherently future-oriented
because they represent individuals confidence for successfully accomplishing the imminent tasks. Yet these expectations, too, are in large part results
of self-schemas that are created from their earlier experiences.
The same previous experiences in the domain provide vital information
for carving both ones self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs. However, individuals do not necessarily reach the same conclusion. Because self-efficacy
items make an explicit reference to outcomes in the upcoming future, there
is ample room for the same individual or for different individuals with similar achievement records to arrive at drastically different expectations for
success. Consider two students who believe that they have always done well
in mathematics and that they are good at mathematics compared with others their age. These two students may or may not express similar strength

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of certitude for accomplishing such tasks as correctly solving given equation problems or getting a grade better than a B+ in mathematics at the
end of the term. Math self-concept reflects students evaluations of their
general competence in math, whereas math self-efficacy represents their
judgments of what they could do with their competence for accomplishing the specified math tasks. Depending on how students analyze and compare the given achievement situation with previous ones involving similar tasks, their confidence for successfully performing each math task can
be strengthened or weakened. On the same token, two students who feel
equally efficacious that they can successfully perform the particular math
tasks may or may not regard themselves as equally competent in math
(Pajares, 1996).
The relative emphasis on the past and the future is inevitably intertwined
with how much specific aspects of the prospective situation should be taken
into account in coming up with a final judgment. When the bases of judgments
that are being called for are mostly experiences in the past, there is no
compelling reason either for researchers to provide a detailed description of
the current situation or for respondents to pay attention to those particulars.
Schemas, by definition, are a constellation of commonalities extracted from
many isolated experiences. Individuals overall views of themselves in the
area based on the past self-schema will not change much by the specifics
of any single event (Markus, 1977). On the other hand, if students are to
report their likelihood of success on some impending tasks that are yet to
be performed, they need to consider all the available information regarding
these tasks. Otherwise, their judgments cannot be accurate because their
performance on these tasks could well be determined by the situational
affordances and constraints. This difference of the past vs. future orientation
between academic self-concept and self-efficacy logically extends itself to
their difference in temporal stability.

TEMPORAL STABILITY
Self-schemata is cognitive generalizations about the self which,
when well articulated, should demonstrate cross-situational consistency
(Markus, 1977). Consistent with this claim, one of the features that
Shavelson et al. (1976) identified as critical to the definition of self-concept
is its stability. Shavelson and Bolus (1982) subsequently reported stability
coefficients between 0.56 and 0.81 with general and subject-matter academic
self-concepts assessed over a 4-month time lag. More important, these selfconcepts appeared more stable than the corresponding achievements. Marsh
and Yeung (1998, Study 2) also reported that subject-specific as well as global

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academic self-concepts that were assessed in two consecutive years demonstrated high stability coefficients, mostly above 0.70. Presumably because of
its resistance to change, self-concept does not lend itself easily to short-term
experimental manipulations. For example, Craven, Marsh, and Debus (1991)
found that, although students domain-specific academic self-concepts were
improved somewhat by adaptive attributional feedback, these changes were
only modest at best. All these attest to the relatively unchanging nature of academic self-concept. There may be developmental differences in
the stability of these perceptions such that younger students self-concepts
are more flexible, whereas older students self-concepts are more firmly established (Skaalvik and Hagtvet, 1990; Wigfield et al., 1997). As children
grow older, their self-concepts also become more highly correlated with
others evaluation of their competence (Wigfield et al., 1997).
It is interesting to note that stability of self-efficacy beliefs has rarely
been investigated. Bandura (1997) stated that, once established, perception
of self-efficacy is resilient to temporary failures. Nevertheless, he emphasized
that it is fundamentally a context-specific construct that should not be viewed
as one of the personality traits. Supporting this claim, Pajares and Graham
(1999) reported that math self-concept demonstrated slightly higher stability
than math self-efficacy when assessed with a 6-month interval. While math
self-concept scores did not change significantly during this period, math selfefficacy scores did. The authors noted that this might have been because of
the more demanding nature of the second self-efficacy assessment items and
that more research with measures of similar difficulty are needed. However,
this exemplifies well the context-specific and malleable nature of academic
self-efficacy judgments. Self-efficacy is a predictive construct that should be
assessed before the target performance (Zimmerman, 1996) because these
beliefs could change greatly upon receiving contextual information.
In discussing the stability of self-concepts, Shavelson et al. (1976) noted
that as one descends the self-concept hierarchy and assesses self-concepts in
more specific situations, the self-concepts become less stable. Self-concepts at
the apex of the hierarchy are more resistant to change, whereas self-concepts
at lower levels are expected to vary considerably with situations. Self-efficacy
is frequently measured at levels that correspond to the situation-specific levels of the Shavelson hierarchy. As such, self-efficacy, as typically assessed,
represents relatively malleable perceptions. Schunk and his colleagues reported repeated successes in experimentally augmenting students efficacy
perceptions in a relatively short period of time and in areas where they
were experiencing great difficulty (Schunk, 1982, 1983, 1984; Schunk et al.,
1987; Schunk and Cox, 1986; Schunk and Hanson, 1985, 1989; Schunk and
Swartz, 1993). These experiments are strong evidence of the dynamic nature
of self-efficacy beliefs.

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PREDICTIVE OUTCOMES
Both academic self-concept and self-efficacy research underscore that
the construct is important as a desirable outcome in itself as well as a potential mediator of academic motivation and performance. While recognizing
the conceptual and methodological differences between the two constructs,
Marsh et al. (1991) wrote, both self-efficacy and self-concept responses are
posited to reflect more than just an objective assessment of existing achievement levels. . . . In this sense, self-efficacy and self-concept measureseven
after partialling out the effects of prior achievementare likely to contribute to the prediction of subsequent behaviors that are dependent on
active choice, motivation, and sustained effort (p. 336).
In accordance with this self-enhancement view, numerous studies have
documented strong relations between measures of academic self-concept or
academic self-efficacy and a variety of motivational and performance indicators. Academic self-concept has been shown to relate systematically to
teachers ratings of level of engagement and persistence in classroom activities (Skaalvik and Rankin, 1996b; Skinner, Wellborn, and Connell, 1990),
students effort ratings (Skaalvik and Rankin, 1995), help-seeking behavior
(Ames, 1983), course-selection (Marsh and Yeung, 1997b), intrinsic motivation (Gottfried, 1990; Harter, 1982; Mac Iver, Stipek, and Daniels, 1991;
Meece, Blumenfeld, and Hoyle, 1988; Skaalvik, 1997b, 1998; Skaalvik and
Rankin, 1996b), and achievement (Marsh, 1992; Marsh et al., 1988; Marsh
and Yeung, 1997a; Shavelson and Bolus, 1982; Skaalvik and Hagtvet, 1990;
Skaalvik and Vals, 1999).
Academic self-efficacy beliefs have been found to strongly relate to task
choice (Bandura and Schunk, 1981; Pajares and Miller, 1995), career selection (Betz and Hackett, 1981, 1983), persistence and performance (Bandura,
Barbaranelli, Caprara, and Pastorelli, 1996; Lent, Brown, and Larkin, 1986;
Multon et al., 1991; Pajares and Miller, 1994; Pajares et al., 1999; Pajares
and Johnson, 1996; Schunk, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984; Schunk and Cox, 1986;
Schunk and Hanson, 1985, 1989; Schunk and Swartz, 1993), grade goals
and academic aspirations (Bandura et al., 1996; Zimmerman et al., 1992;
Zimmerman and Bandura, 1994), cognitive strategy use and self-regulation
(Pintrich and De Groot, 1990; Wolters and Pintrich, 1998), perceived value
(Bong, 2001b; Meece, Wigfield, and Eccles, 1990), mastery goal orientation
(Bong, 2001a; Meece and Holt, 1993; Roeser, Midgley, and Urdan, 1996;
Skaalvik, 1997b), and intrinsic interest and self-satisfactions (Zimmerman
and Kitsantas, 1997, 1999).
Although both theories emphasize the predictive and explanatory role
of these self-judgments, academic self-concept and self-efficacy have traditionally been paired with slightly different sets of outcomes (Bong and

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Clark, 1999). Favorite outcomes of academic self-concept research include


course grades, standardized achievement test scores, intrinsic motivation,
and anxiety. Self-efficacy investigations normally include measures of goal
setting, persistence, effort expenditure, and specific task performance. More
recent studies in both areas are less bound by these traditional outcomes.
For example, Skaalvik (1997b, 1998) demonstrated that self-concept related
positively to student goal setting. Skaalvik and Skaalvik (2000) showed
that both self-concept and self-efficacy correlated positively with mastery
and self-enhancing ego (performance-approach) goal orientation and negatively with self-defeating ego (performance-avoid) goal orientation. Pajares
and his colleagues (Pajares et al., 1999; Pajares and Kranzler, 1995; Pajares
and Miller, 1994) demonstrated that self-efficacy is a significant predictor of
anxiety.
In general, self-concept better predicts affective reactions such as anxiety, satisfaction, and self-esteem, whereas self-efficacy better predicts cognitive processes and actual performance. Such relative superiority notwithstanding, both constructs have been found useful for predicting similar
outcomes. Because self-efficacy researchers have used both correlational
and experimental designs, self-efficacy effects are more clearly established
(see Pajares, 1997, for an overview). Self-concept researchers, primarily using survey designs and correlational analyses, are still debating the causal
relations between self-concept and achievement (see Skaalvik, 1997a, for an
overview). Nevertheless, academic self-concept and academic self-efficacy
research shares the basic premise that the construct plays a significant
role in enhancing students intrinsic motivation, positive emotion, and
performance.

WHAT NOW? SOME DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH


The purpose of this article was to illuminate conceptually the similarities and differences between academic self-concept and self-efficacy, the
self-constructs known to wield critical influence on students academic attainment and psychological well-being in school. The two conceptualizations
share important similarities such as their treatment of perceived competence
as the most integral element in construct definition and assessment. Both
self-beliefs use prior mastery experience, social comparison, and reflected
appraisals as major information sources. Beliefs of academic self-concept
and self-efficacy are also domain-specific and multidimensional such that
students hold perceptions that are unique to each academic domain and
reasonably differentiated across diverse areas. These two constructs predict
subsequent motivation, emotion, and performance to varying degrees.

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There are also important differences. Some definitions of academic selfconcept include cognitive evaluations of capability along with affective reactions toward results of such evaluations. Self-efficacy theorists make clear
distinction between these components and consider affective reactions as a
separate construct that is mainly a consequence of self-efficacy perceptions.
While competence evaluation in self-concept relies heavily on social comparison and hence tends to be normative, self-efficacy evaluation is primarily
goal-referenced and most strongly affected by ones enactive experiences.
Academic self-concept reflects an aggregated judgment or overall impression of ones competence in given academic domains. As such, self-concept
beliefs tend to be past-oriented, stable over time, and resistant to change.
Academic self-efficacy reflects a highly context-specific judgment of ones
competence, although repeated successes or failures make these beliefs more
durable. The dynamic and malleable nature of self-efficacy perceptions renders them more amenable to experimental procedures aiming at efficacy
enhancement.

Need to Separate Multiple Components of Academic Self-Concept


Presently, the dominant view of academic self-concept is that it is a
collection of a host of related perceptions: competence, self-worth, interest,
enjoyment, and intentions, to name a few. It is conceivable that self-concept
measures, which reflect this complexity, better predict outcomes that are
jointly influenced and determined by these factors. Such outcomes tend to
involve choice and performance measures at more general levels of specificity. Although this composite view toward academic self-concept may indeed mirror students actual thought patterns in certain situations, several
researchers demonstrated the need as well as usefulness of separating out
some of these components. Wigfield et al. (1997), for example, reported that
even elementary school children were able to differentiate their perceived
ability and interest within the same activity domains. Studies that distinguish
between competence and task-value perceptions provide evidence that each
predicts certain outcomes better than the other. Generally, perceived competence predicts academic performance better, whereas task-value predicts
choice behaviors better (e.g., Meece et al., 1990).
Self-efficacy researchers have argued that self-efficacy is the most useful
self-construct because it predicts subsequent motivation and performance
better than the other constructs, including self-concept (e.g., Bandura, 1986;
Pajares and Miller, 1994). One reason for its stronger predictive power owes
to the fact that it purposefully avoids intermixing different components under the rubric of self-efficacy. Instead, it concentrates on students subjective

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judgments of capability to perform given academic tasks successfully at designated levels (Schunk, 1991). Rather than assessing omnibus views of self
that include perceived competence and affect, efficacy researchers study various self-processes (e.g., self-evaluation, self-satisfaction, affect) separately
from self-efficacy within the cyclical phases of self-regulation (Zimmerman,
2000). For example, self-efficacy affects goal setting, which influences selfevaluation and self-satisfaction/affect during the subsequent self-reflection
phase, the results of which, in turn, influence intrinsic interest/value, outcome
expectations, and subsequent self-efficacy.
We believe that academic self-concept research would also benefit from
separating perceived competence components from other elements and examining the specific contributions of each major constituent. This approach
should generate specific guidelines for how these components are linked
within the broader self-system and for when each of them is most useful for
predictive and explanatory purposes.

Self-Efficacy as an Active Precursor of Self-Concept


The previous discussion on the separability of multiple self-concept
components and the centrality of perceived competence among those components bring to light yet another closely related set of issues. These issues
include whether the perceived competence components of academic selfconcept are equivalent to self-efficacy judgments and, if so, how self-efficacy
beliefs influence the development of self-concept.
Lent et al. (1997) investigated whether self-concept subsumed selfefficacy components by subjecting various measures of academic selfconcept and self-efficacy to confirmatory factor analysis. In that study,
self-concept and self-efficacy formed correlated but separate factors. The
researchers thus concluded that self-concept did not appear to subsume
self-efficacy. However, they did not examine the relations of self-efficacy
separately with different components of academic self-concept. Investigators that explicitly incorporated the distinction between cognitive and affective/motivational components of self-concept reached an opposite conclusion. As discussed previously, Skaalvik and Rankin (1996a, 1996b) and
Pietsch (1999) reported that academic self-concept responses could be separated into two factors and that the perceived competence component loaded
on the same factor with academic self-efficacy.
This finding does not exempt us from resolving other conceptual issues discussed in this article such as normative vs. goal-referenced evaluation, content-specificity vs. context-specificity, and temporal stability vs.
malleability. Nevertheless, consensus seems to exist among researchers that

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it is the perceived competence component of the constructs that best predicts performance and that, within the same domain, it is sometimes difficult
to distinguish between academic self-concept and self-efficacy.
We suggest that academic self-efficacy beliefs provide one cognitive
basis for developing academic self-concept. Self-concept, as viewed in this
article and by others in the field (e.g., Bandura, 1986; Bong and Clark,
1999; Pajares, 1996), represents a constellation of competence and value
perceptions that are swayed mainly by overall impressions. Self-concept
judgments do not easily take into account contextual particularities such
as the scope and levels of specific tasks within a single domain or the changing circumstances under which one has to perform (Bandura, 1986). Instead,
competence perceptions in academic self-concept reflect an abstraction of
numerous experiences within a given domain (Markus, 1977). Therefore,
academic self-concept in its very initial stage is expected to exhibit high
cross-situational variability because of the lack of experience, which makes
such generalization difficult. It is possible that self-concept during this early
stage of development is indistinguishable from self-efficacy judgments.
As students acquire more enactive and vicarious experiences as well as
feedback from significant others, their competence perceptions toward the
task or domain gradually become more stable. After repeated exposures to
achievement situations with the same or similar tasks, they develop an aggregated sense of their own academic capability on the basis of salient success
or failure experiences. Depending on whether this cognitive generalization
reflects favorably or unfavorably on oneself, it gives rise to positive or negative affective reactions. Perceptions of capability thus inevitably influence
how students feel about themselves in a domain, how much they like or
enjoy the particular domain, and even how important they believe that particular academic domain is (e.g., Harter, 1998; Zimmerman, 2000). Students
self-efficacy judgments toward particular tasks or domains now may or may
not be equal to the perceived competence component of self-concept. Perceived self-efficacy in typical achievement situations will correlate strongly
with academic self-concept in that area. Relations between efficacy beliefs
and self-concept will become weaker as given tasks or situations involve
more distinctive elements. Under these latter circumstances, self-efficacy
will demonstrate particularly superior utility to self-concept in predicting
intentions, motivation, and performance.

Educational Implications
Perhaps the most fundamental similarity between theories and research of academic self-concept and self-efficacy, which this article has not

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addressed, is their underlying motive of studying the self. No one can deny
that the ultimate goal of both self-concept and self-efficacy research is to help
students function and adapt better when academic demands are imposed.
Researchers try to do so by understanding students perceptions of themselves in academic contexts and using this information to predict important
outcomes.
Studies from both camps have demonstrated that positive percepts of
self generate many desirable outcomes. Strong self-efficacy and positive selfconcept lead students to set challenging yet attainable academic goals for
themselves, feel less anxious in achievement settings, enjoy their academic
work more, persist longer on difficult tasks, and, overall, feel better about
themselves as a person and as a student. Though it is far from sufficient,
research in both areas has answered many questions on the what and
why of academic motivation. Investigators examined issues such as what
is the nature of academic self-concept and self-efficacy, why students form
different self-evaluations, or why learners express different levels of confidence when their past achievement histories are similar. To some extent,
researchers also analyzed the process of how, such as how academic selfconcept and self-efficacy beliefs are created and how they affect subsequent
motivation, learning, and performance.
Some questions consistent with the original aim of both self-theories
but which still need considerably more research are How can we, as researchers and practitioners, change students self-perceptions to a positive
direction? How can we strengthen their self-confidence toward difficult and
previously unsuccessful academic tasks? How can we make students generalize their heightened self-regards in given areas to other achievement and
performance contexts? Most importantly, how can we help students form accurate yet optimistic self-perceptions and, at the same time, help them avoid
their low academic self-perceptions to negatively affect their self-worth?
Many experiments now exist on how to raise or alter students academic
self-efficacy beliefs by implementing a variety of instructional procedures.
Schunk and his colleagues have been particularly instrumental in offering
specific strategies that could, with a little bit of mindfulness, be easily incorporated in classroom instruction. Teachers can, among other things, provide
students with proximal rather than distal goals (Schunk, 1983), combine process goals with progress feedback (Schunk and Swartz, 1993), employ peers
who share similar attributes to their students as teaching and learning models
(Schunk and Hanson, 1985; Schunk, Hanson, and Cox, 1987), furnish effort
attributional feedback for students progress (Schunk and Cox, 1986), and
prompt students to self-evaluate (Schunk and Ertmer, 1999). These methods
are all known to enhance students perceptions of self-efficacy and ensuing
performance.

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Most self-concept investigators studied de facto relationships between


academic self-concept and achievement without attempting to manipulate
students self-perceptions. Therefore, researchers have less experience in
working to bolster students academic self-concept. This is reflected in the
lack of experimental evidence in academic self-concept literature (Bong and
Clark, 1999). As a result, we have only limited experience in how to successfully bring about change in students overall views of themselves. Normative
ability comparison, for example, is probably the most well documented cognitive process that is proven to exercise crucial influence on academic selfconcept formation. Evidence shows that having peers of lower perceived
ability augments ones self-concept in the area (Coleman and Fults, 1982).
However, artificially manipulating students class membership is utterly undesirable, if not impossible. We cannot sacrifice the self-concepts of relatively
low-achieving students in an attempt to provide more favorable comparison
frames to other students. Reflected appraisal from significant others is another known antecedent of self-concept (Rosenberg, 1979). However, being
praised for work by the teacher is sometimes taken to indicate that the student lacks ability compared with others. Hence, praising students work may
have unpredictable effects and is not a guaranteed way of stimulating their
self-concept.
The important question for self-concept enhancement, therefore, has
to be not how we change students self-images directly but, rather, how we
can make students less preoccupied with normative ability comparisons in
school. Recent work in the areas of achievement goal orientations demonstrated that students personal goal adoption is greatly influenced by what
their schools, teachers, and parents appear to value (Ames and Archer, 1987,
1988; Midgley, Anderman, and Hicks, 1995; Roeser et al., 1996). Normative comparison concerns are greater in the environments that emphasize
being better than others and whose evaluation standards are comparative
(Anderman and Midgley, 1997). Although investigators of goal orientation
did not examine the impact of perceived social psychological environments
on academic self-concept, they did report negative effects of normative emphasis on percepts of self-efficacy. Similar psychological mechanisms may be
at work with how students feel about themselves.
The problem with improving students academic self-concept, especially
if it has to be achieved in a relatively short period of time, also owes to
the more stable characteristics of self-concept. Changing ones academic
self-concept may require considerably more time and effort compared with
strengthening ones self-efficacy. It is relatively easier to enhance students
efficacy perceptions toward specific academic tasks, as Schunks series of experiments demonstrated. Heightened self-efficacy, in turn, is associated with
higher goal setting, more effort and persistence, more effective strategy use,

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and better performance at those tasks. Again, this experience is evaluated


through self-reflection and affects self-reaction and subsequent motivation
in future learning episodes (Zimmerman, 2000). Therefore, teachers might
be better off investing in (1) fortifying students efficacy perceptions, especially when the primary goal is to improve their immediate future performance, (2) creating environments that reduce students preoccupation with
ability comparisons, and (3) reducing the impact of academic self-concept
on students self-worth.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank Allan Wigfield and Barry Zimmerman for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. We also thank Herb Marsh for his
suggestion to prepare this article.
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