What is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s own capability to plan and perform actions to attain a specific outcome (Bandura, 1997). In the context of Imperial College London, self-efficacy is how much students believe they can succeed in achieving academic outcomes.

Why does self-efficacy matter?

Research has found that self-efficacy correlates with academic performance (Ferla, Valcke, & Cai, 2009; Luszczynska, Guitiérrez-Doña, & Schwarzer, 2005; Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992), demonstrating that students who are high in academic self-efficacy participate more readily, work harder, persist longer when they encounter difficulties, and achieve at a higher academic performance level (Schunk & Pajares, 2002).

With this understanding, we are particularly interested in students’ self-efficacy in the Imperial setting. In particular, we are interested in general self-efficacy (how confident are students in their ability to achieve goals and perform well in various tasks in their lives?), educational self-efficacy (how empowered are students to engage with independent learning, collaboration, and other goals set out in the Learning and Teaching Strategy?), and self-efficacy in academic and/or professional discipline (how confident are students with their performance within their discipline?).

Bandura’s conceptualisation of self-efficacy is grounded in the capability to achieve specific tasks or outcomes (Nielsen, Makransky, Vang, & Danmeyer, 2017) and ability to master challenges (Scholz, Doña, Sud, & Schwarzer, 2002; Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995), and for us at Imperial, it is interesting to look at different academic and discipline-related tasks of students, and the degree of confidence with which students feel they can accomplish those tasks.

How can we assess self-efficacy?

As self-efficacy is concerned with perceived capability, it is important that the wording of the items on the scale reflect this. As Bandura (2006) makes clear: the items should be phrased in terms of can do rather than will do – as can is a judgement of capability whereas will is a statement of intention; the two constructs are conceptually and empirically separable.

"Scales of perceived self-efficacy must be tailored to the particular domain of functioning that is the object of interest. […] In the standard methodology for measuring self-efficacy beliefs, individuals are presented with items portraying different levels of task demands, and they rate the strength of their belief in their ability to execute the requisite activities.” (Bandura, Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales, 2006, pp. 307-8, 312)"

We've put together some guidance on tools you may want to use to measure student self-efficacy. Further guidance on developing validated scales and questionnaires is available via the links given at the bottom of the page.

Tools you might want to use to measure self-efficacy among your students

There are several existing tools that you can use to evaluate student self-efficacy. The scales shared with you here have undergone a rigorous, research-based development process to enhance reliability (Gehlbach & Brinkworth, 2011). Included below are sample scales which were developed in accordance with the evidence-based best practices we have highlighted on the “Best Practices in Questionnaire Design” page in the Education evaluation toolkit. If you are interested in learning more about developing your own items and questionnaire scales, see our guide to best practice in questionnaire design.

See the linked questionnaire scales below for each type of self-efficacy addressed on this page:


Artino, Jr., A. R., & Gehlbach, H. (2012). AM Last Page: Avoiding Four Visual-Design Pitfalls in Survey Development. Academic Medicine, 87(10), 1452. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hunter_Gehlbach/publication/231210670_AM_Last_Page_Avoiding_Four_Visual-Design_Pitfalls_in_Survey_Development/links/5a835de6aca272d6501eb6a3/AM-Last-Page-Avoiding-Four-Visual-Design-Pitfalls-in-Survey-Development.pdf

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares, & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents (pp. 307-337). Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.

Chen, G., Gully, S. M., & Eden, D. (2001). Validation of a New General Self-Efficacy Scale. Organizational Research Methods, 4(1), 62-83.

Eden, D. (2001). Means efficacy: External sources of general and specific subjective efficacy. In M. Erez, U. Kleinbeck, & H. Thierry (Eds.), Work motivation in the context of a globalizing economy. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ferla, J., Valcke, M., & Cai, Y. (2009). Academic self-efficacy and academic self-concept: Reconsidering structural relationships. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(4), 499-505.

Gehlbach, H., & Artino Jr., A. R. (2018). The survey checklist (manifesto). Academic Medicine, 93(3), 360-366. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/fulltext/2018/03000/The_Survey_Checklist__Manifesto_.18.aspx#pdf-link

Gehlbach, H., & Brinkworth, M. E. (2011). Measure twice, cut down error: A process for enhancing the validity of survey scales. Review of General Psychology, 15(4), 380-387. Retrieved from https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/8138346/Gehlbach%20-%20Measure%20twice%208-31-11.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Luszczynska, A., Guitiérrez-Doña, B., & Schwarzer, R. (2005). General self-efficacy invariousdomains of human functioning: Evidence fromfive countries. International Journal of Psychology, 40(2), 80-89.

Nielsen, T., Makransky, G., Vang, M. L., & Danmeyer, J. (2017). How specific is specific self-efficacy? A construct validity study using Raschmeasurement models. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 53, 87-97.

Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students' academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pychological Bulletin, 138(2), 353.

Scholz, U., Doña, B. G., Sud, S., & Schwarzer, R. (2002). Is general self-efficacy a universal construct? Psychometric findings from 25 countries. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 18(3), 242.

Schunk, D., & Pajares, F. (2002). The development of academic self-efficacy. In A. Wigfield, & J. Eccles (Eds.), Development of achievement motivation. San Diego, California: Academic Press.

Schwarzer, R., & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized self-efficacy scale. Measures in health psychology: A user's portfolio. Causal and Control beliefs, 1, 35-37.

Weng, L. -J. (2004). Impact of the number of response categories and anchor labels on coefficient alpha and test-retest reliability. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64, 956-972. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0013164404268674

Zimmerman, B. J., Bandura, A., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1992). Self-motivation for academic attainment: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and personal goal setting. American Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 663-676.