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Motivation, test scores and economic success
Segal, Carmit
Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Departament d'Economia i Empresa
This paper argues that low-stakes test scores, available in surveys, may be partially determinedby test-taking motivation, which is associated with personality traits but not with cognitiveability. Therefore, such test score distributions may not be informative regarding cognitiveability distributions. Moreover, correlations, found in survey data, between high test scoresand economic success may be partially caused by favorable personality traits. To demonstratethese points, I use the coding speed test that was administered without incentives to NationalLongitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY) participants. I suggest that due to its simplicityits scores may especially depend on individuals' test-taking motivation. I show that controllingfor conventional measures of cognitive skills, the coding speed scores are correlated with futureearnings of male NLSY participants. Moreover, the coding speed scores of highly motivated,though less educated, population (potential enlists to the armed forces) are higher than NLSYparticipants' scores. I then use controlled experiments to show that when no performance-basedincentives are provided, participants' characteristics, but not their cognitive skills, affect effortinvested in the coding speed test. Thus, participants with the same ability (measured by theirscores on an incentivized test) have significantly different scores on tests without performance-based incentives.
Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Labour, Public, Development and Health Economics
test scores
cognitive skills
non-cognitive skills
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