The relation between college grades and self-reported amount of effort was examined in four major and several minor investigations of undergraduates in a large state university. Grades were operationalized mainly by using grade point average (GPA), though in one investigation grades in a particular course were the focus. Effort was measured in several different ways, ranging from student estimates of typical study over the term to reports of study on specific days. Despite evidence that these self-reports provide meaningful estimates of actual studying, there is at best only a very small relation between amount of studying and grades, as compared to the considerably stronger and more monotonic relations between grades and both aptitude measures and self-reported class attendance. The plausible assumption that college grades reflect student effort to an important extent does not receive much support from these investigations. This raises a larger question about the extent to which rewards are linked to effort in other areas of life—a connection often assumed but seldom investigated.

Several of the senior author's Research Methods classes participated actively in both the design and the execution of the main research described here. We are also grateful to Diana Pearce, Jean Converse, and Daniel DuRoss, each of whom collaborated at some point in our investigations; to Marc Schuman and Jacob Ludwig who provided consultation on computing throughout; and to James House and F. Thomas Juster who offered suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.