CASE STUDY : University success: the role of personality and emotional intelligence

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CASE STUDY : University success: the role of personality and emotional intelligence

Challenge

Being selected for graduate and post-graduate degree studies inevitably requires cognitive ability. However, to sustain academic success and eventually graduate calls for more than IQ, especially in the face of hardships. Research shows that personality traits and emotional intelligence will drive perseverance. Personality and emotional intelligence (EI) also play an important role in employability. Characteristics such as goal directedness, problem-solving, leadership and vision are essential for future job opportunities, as employers are more interested in these as opposed to skills. This study looked at which characteristics will predict academic perseverance in the face of hardship.

Solution/Study

The sample consisted of bursary students selected based on their ability to overcome adverse hardships (n = 202; 41% men). Participants were from different faculties and years in their degree (107 from Cape Town and 95 from Gauteng). Students completed the Basic Traits Inventory (BTI), the Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 (EQ-i 2.0) and the Matrigma.

Results

It is important to note that although Matrigma scores correlated with matric marks, there were no significant correlations with university performance. In other words, cognitive ability did not predict how well students cope in university.
Personality factors and emotional intelligence proved to have significant effects on students’ coping abilities. Based on how students coped both academically and with their current situation, they were categorised according to good, average or struggling.

Academic category:

  • Students in the good category were more likely to motivate themselves to start and complete tasks in advance (Self Discipline – BTI) and better equipped to deal with stressful situations by positive behaviour (Stress Tolerance – EQ-i 2.0). These students also scored significantly lower on Excitement Seeking (BTI), indicating that they are less likely to spend time on seeking out adrenalin arousing experiences such as loud parties.
  • Students in the good and average categories reported significantly higher Happiness scores (EQ-i 2.0) than students in the struggling category, which implies that they are generally more content with life and able to experience joy.

Coping category:

  • Students in the good category had significantly lower scores on the Neuroticism factors (BTI), which means that they were generally more emotionally stable. Students coping well were also able to better cope with stressful situations and remain hopeful in stressful situations (Stress Tolerance and Stress Management – EQ-I 2.0). Not surprisingly, these students had higher scores on Happiness (EQ-I 2.0), indicating that they are more content with life.
  • Interestingly, students flagged as struggling scored significantly higher on Dutifulness (BTI) and also on the Matrigma (cognitive ability). This could likely be because dutiful students tend to stick to the rules, and may have trouble dealing with change.

Conclusion

Cognitive ability does not appear to be linked to academic success at university, once students have met the entrance requirements. Personality and emotional intelligence factors, on the other hand, may provide some buffering for students when faced with academic and situational hardships. It is therefore important to use personality and EI assessments in the screening process to flag candidates likely to struggle with the demands university places on them. This will assist in identifying effective support to students. Personality and EI assessments furthermore support personal development plans, helping students become more work-ready through self-awareness and targeted skills development programmes.

© 2016 JvR Psychometrics (Pty) Ltd


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