Undergraduates’ reactions to errors mediates the association between growth mindset and study strategies


Background: Students employ a variety of study strategies to learn and master content in their courses. Strategies vary widely in their effectiveness for promoting deep, long-term learning, yet most students use ineffective strategies frequently. Efforts to educate students about effective study strategies have revealed that knowledge about effective strategies is by itself insufficient for encouraging widespread and lasting changes. An important next step is to uncover factors that influence the decisions students make about study strategy use. We explored the association between beliefs about intelligence (mindset, universality, and brilliance) and study strategies. The most effective study strategies are error-prone, and beliefs about intelligence carry implications for whether errors are a normal and even beneficial part of the learning process (e.g., growth mindset) or signs of insufficient intelligence (e.g., fixed mindset). Therefore, we hypothesized that beliefs about and reactions to errors would mediate a relationship between beliefs about intelligence and study strategies. We tested this hypothesis by surveying 345 undergraduates enrolled in an introductory biology class at a public, research-active university in northwestern United States. Results: Confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the internal structure of all measures functioned as expected in our sample. We fit a structural equation model to evaluate our hypothesized model. We found that mindset, but not universality nor brilliance, predicts variance in both beliefs about errors and reactions to errors. In turn, adaptive reactions to errors (but not beliefs about errors) are associated with the use of highly effective study strategies and spacing study sessions. There was a significant indirect relationship between growth mindset and spacing of study sessions. Conclusions: Our results provide evidence for a mechanism explaining the association between students’ mindset beliefs and academic outcomes: believing that intelligence is improvable is associated with more adaptive reactions to making errors, which correlates with choosing more error-prone and therefore more effective study strategies. Future interventions aimed at improving students’ study strategies may be more effective if they simultaneously target reacting adaptively to errors and emphasize that intelligence is improvable.


© The Author(s) 2024. cc-by


Error adaptivity, Error beliefs, Lay theories, Mediation model, Mindset beliefs, Study strategies


Chouvalova, A., Navlekar, A.S., Mills, D.J., Adams, M., Daye, S., De, Anda, F., & Limeri, L.B.. 2024. Undergraduates’ reactions to errors mediates the association between growth mindset and study strategies. International Journal of STEM Education, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-024-00485-4