PublicationsTopic index of systematic reviewsKnowledge pagesMotivation
This page contains the findings of systematic reviews undertaken by review groups linked to the EPPI Centre

Views of students

Views of students

One review described what pupils (aged 11-16) believe impacts on their motivation to learn.[4]  Six themes were identified from the studies as key to motivation. These themes are presented in the order of frequency with which they were identified by the studies in the in-depth review:

  • the role of self
  • utility
  • pedagogy
  • peer-group influences
  • learning
  • curriculum

The role of the self

  • Pupils make decisions about school subjects as a result of a range of interconnected factors that occur over time.
  • Once made, these decisions become the dominant influence on the levels of engagement.
  • A belief in innate preferences for particular subjects can be confirmed by parental preferences.
  • The dichotomy between performance and mastery goals is too simplistic.
  • Group work appears to result in greater engagement by pupils.
  • Teacher expectations impact on the effort expended by pupils on school-related work.
  • Boys interviewed in one study felt that the adult community held erroneous perceptions about how they saw themselves and how this impacted on their motivation to learn.


  • Students appear to be more motivated by activities that they perceive as useful or relevant.
  • Even where students perceive a task to be useful, they are not necessarily motivated to go beyond the requirements of the specified learning task.

Pedagogical issues

  • Some pupils perceive school work as boring and repetitive.
  • Pupils perceive that a teacher's approach, attitude and enthusiasm influence their engagement.
  • Pupils appear to be more engaged with lessons that they perceive to be fun.
  • Pupils appear less interested when classroom activity takes a formal, passive form.
  • Pupils express a preference for collaborative work.
  • Authentic learning tasks are more likely to engage pupils cognitively.

The influence of peers

  • Being perceived as clever appears to be socially acceptable and a source of social respect among peers. However, if 'cleverness' is combined with other characteristics that transgress peer-group norms and values, then it is perceived to be less acceptable.
  • Pupils perceive that the norms and organisation of 'school' interfere with other more desirable forms of peer-group interactions.
  • Pupils frequently expressed the importance of not being made to appear foolish in front of their peer group.


  • Pupils believe that effort is important and can make a difference.
  • Pupil effort appears to be influenced by the expectations of the teacher and expectations of the wider community.
  • Pupils suggested that increased self-understanding came from collaboration, varied methodology and active, experiential work.


  • Some pupils perceive the curriculum to be restricted in what it recognises and values as student achievement.
  • Curricula can isolate pupils from their peers and from the subject matter.
  • The way that the curriculum is mediated can send messages that it is not accessible to all.
  • The way that assessment of the curriculum is constructed and practised in school appears to influence how pupils see themselves as learners and social beings.


One review described the effects of summative assessment on motivation [1].  Evidence was found in these areas:

  • Evidence of impact on students
  • Impact in relation to age, gender and level of achievement
  • Effect of the conditions of testing
  • Strategies to increase motivation

Evidence of impact on students

  • After the introduction of the National Curriculum tests in England, low-achieving pupils had lower self-esteem than higher-achieving students; before the tests, there had been no correlation between self-esteem and achievement.  Low self-esteem reduces the chance of future effort and success.
  • A strong emphasis on testing produces students with a strong extrinsic orientation towards grades and social status, i.e. a motivation towards performance rather than learning goals.  Students dislike high-stakes tests, showing high levels of test anxiety, and are aware that they give only a narrow view of what they can do.
  • Interest and effort are increased in classrooms which encourage self-regulated learning by providing students with an element of choice, control over challenge and opportunities to work collaboratively. 
  • Feedback that is ego-involving rather than task-involving is associated with an orientation to performance goals.

Impact in relation to age, gender and level of achievement

  • Older students are likely to focus on performance outcomes rather than learning processes.  They are more likely than younger students to attribute relative success to effort and ability.
  • Lower-ability older students tend to show increasing mistrust of standardised achievement tests. Being labelled as failures impacts on their current feelings about their ability to learn; it also lowers their self-esteem still further and reduces the chance of future effort and success.
  • Results of tests which are 'high-stakes' for individual pupils have been found to have a devastating impact on those who receive low grades.
  • Girls reported more test anxiety than boys; they also make more internal attributions of success or failure than boys, with consequences for their self-esteem.

Effect of the conditions of testing

  • Feedback that focuses on the task is associated with greater interest and effort, whereas feedback that is ego-involving rather than task-involving is associated with an orientation to performance goals.
  • School culture is important.  Constructive discussion of testing and the development of desirable assessment practice in the school has a positive effect; focus on performance outcomes has a negative effect.
  • The degree to which learners are able to regulate their own learning appears to favour students' interest and to promote focus on the intrinsic features of their work.
  • When test scores are a source of pride to parents and the community, pressure is brought to bear on the school and students for high scores.  This increases anxiety, even when students recognise that parents are being supportive.

Strategies to increase motivation

  • Promoting learning goal orientation rather than performance orientation
  • Cultivating intrinsic interest in the subject and putting less emphasis on grades
  • Teaching approaches that encourage self-regulated learning (including collaboration among students) and cater for a range of learning styles
  • Providing explanations of the purpose of assessment and providing feedback that can help further learning
  • Establishing a school climate of constructive discourse about assessment among teachers, and between teachers and students
  • Developing a constructive and supportive school ethos in relation to tests
  • Ensuring that the demands of the tests are consistent with the expectations of teachers and the capabilities of the students
  • Involving students in decisions about testing
  • Developing students' self-assessment skills and use of learning rather than performance criteria as part of a classroom environment that promotes self-regulated learning
  • Using assessment to convey a sense of learning progress to students.


Two reviews looked at the effects of context-based/ Science-Technology-Society approaches in the teaching of secondary science. One review [2] found some evidence that context-based approaches motivate pupil in their science lessons.  The other [3] was more specific:

  • Both girls and boys in classes using context-based approaches had significantly more positive attitudes to science than their same-sex peers in classes using a traditional approach.
  • A context-based/STS approach to teaching science narrowed the gap between boys and girls in their attitude to science.
  • Generally, there was no difference between boys and girls in the enjoyment of context-based course materials.  Where a difference occurred, boys enjoyed materials significantly more because of the nature of the practical work included, whereas girls based their positive judgement on non-practical activities in the course materials. 

There is also some evidence [3] that:

  • Lower-ability pupils in classes using a context-based/STS approach held significantly more positive attitudes to science than both high-ability peers in the same class and lower-ability pupils in classes using a traditional approach.
  • Lower-ability pupils in classes using a context-based/STS approach showed higher gain in conceptual understanding of science than both high-ability peers in the same classes and lower ability peers in classes using a traditional approach.


One review [5] identified four key areas of significance for raising motivational effort in Key Stage 4 mathematics among pupils of average or below average attainment in England:

  • Grouping and the use of single sex classes in co-educational schools. The studies reviewed did not collectively indicate any clear and consistent impact of setting on motivational effort per se, although it does appear that, if the whole class knows that being in a lower set will deny them access to higher GCSE grades, this can make it very difficult to sustain their motivational effort. The use of boys-only classes in co-educational schools can sometimes enhance rather than undermine the 'laddish' culture.
  • Pupil identity. This is the extent to which pupils have a positive identity of themselves as 'mathematicians', that is, people who can understand and do mathematics and feel a sense of belonging in their mathematics classes. Studies indicate that raising motivational effort through developing a more positive pupil identity involves the use of strategies characterised by i) providing a caring and supportive classroom environment; ii) providing activities which pupils find challenging and enjoyable; iii) enabling pupils to gain a deeper understanding of the mathematics; iv) providing opportunities for pupils to collaborate; and v) enabling the pupils to feel equally valued.
  • Teaching for engagement. This involves teachers' choice of teaching and learning activities, the way they interact with pupils and the type of classroom climate they establish.  The emphasis is on the importance of the teacher being caring and supportive, and making the mathematics enjoyable.
  • Innovative methods.  Strategies using ICT (e.g. interactive whiteboards, videoconferencing, supportive software packages for pupils and graphical calculators) can have a powerful effect on raising motivational effort.  It is important to distinguish between motivating effects based on novelty and different ways of working, and those based on enhancing a deeper understanding of mathematics.  Both are important, but the latter is necessary for long-term impact. Other innovative methods which can play a part in raising motivational effort are: cognitive acceleration in mathematics education (CAME); teaching of self-regulation strategies; teaching based on extending features of the primary school National Numeracy Strategy (e.g. use of mental/ oral starters and whole-class interactive teaching); and the use of formative assessment.  For both types of innovation (ICT- and non-ICT-based), it is necessary for teachers to have a good understanding of the theoretical basis concerning why and how the innovation can be effective, and to develop the relevant skills and techniques for implemention.  Effectiveness of any innovative teaching method is highly sensitive to the way in which it is implemented.


1. A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students' motivation for learning (2002)

2. A systematic review of the effects of context-based and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches in the teaching of secondary science (2003)

3. The effects of context-based and Science-Technology-Society (STS) approaches in the teaching of secondary science on boys and girls, and on lower-ability pupils (2005)

4. A systematic review of what pupils, aged 11-16, believe impacts on their motivation to learn in the classroom (2005)

5. A systematic review of strategies to raise pupils’ motivational effort in Key Stage 4 Mathematics (2006)


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