Are Academic Procrastinators Metacognitively Deprived?

By Aaron S. Richmond
Metropolitan State University of Denver

Academic Procrastinators Brief Overview

One of my favorite articles is Academic Procrastination of Undergraduates: Low Self-Efficacy to Self-Regulate Predicts Higher Levels of Procrastination by Robert M. Klassen, Lindsey. L. Krawchuk, and Sukaina Rajani (2007). Klassen and colleagues state that “…the rate for problematic academic procrastination among undergraduates is estimated to be at least 70-95% (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Steel, 2007), with estimates of chronic or severe procrastination among undergraduates between 20% and 30%” (p. 916). Academic procrastination is, “the intentional delay of an intended course action, in spite of an awareness of negative outcomes (Steel, 2007; as cited in Klassen et al., 2006, p. 916). Based on the above stated statistics, it is obvious that academic procrastination is an issue in higher education, and that understanding what factors influence it and are related to its frequency is of utmost importance.

In their 2007 article, Klassen and colleagues conducted two studies to understand the relationship among academic procrastination and self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-esteem and then understand this relationship within “negative procrastinators” (p. 915). In study 1, they surveyed 261 undergraduate students. They found that academic procrastination was inversely correlated to college/university GPA, self-regulation, academic self-efficacy and self-esteem. Meaning as students’ frequency of academic procrastination went down, their GPA and self-reported scores of self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-regulation went up. They also found that self-regulation, self-esteem, and self-efficacy predicted academic procrastination.

In study 2, Klassen and colleagues (2007) they were interested in knowing whether there was a difference between negative and neutral procrastinators. That is when procrastinating caused a negative affect (e.g., grade penalty for assignment tardiness) or a neutral affect (e.g., no penalty for assignment tardiness). They surveyed 194 undergraduates and asked students to rate how academic procrastination affected, either positively or negatively, specific academic tasks (reading, research, etc.). They then, divided the sample into a group of students that self-reported that academic procrastination negatively affected them in some way or positive/neutrally affected them in some way.  What they found is that there were significant differences in GPA, daily procrastination, task procrastination, predicted class grade, actual class grade, and self-reported self-regulation between negative procrastinators and neutral procrastinators. They also found that students most often procrastinated on writing tasks.

So Where Does Metacognition Come in to Play?

Because a main factor of their focus was self-regulation, I think Klassen and colleagues study, gives us great insight and promise into the potential role (either causal or predictive) that metacognition plays in academic procrastination. First, in Study 1, they used the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ; Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & MckKeachie, 1993) to measure self-efficacy for self-regulation. This MSLQ subscale assesses students’ awareness of knowledge and control of cognition (Klassen et al., 2007). It asks question like “If course materials are difficult to understand, I change the way I read the material.” or “I try to change the way I study in order to fit the course requirements and instructor’s teaching style.” (p. 920). As self-efficacy for self-regulation are a subset of metacognition, it is clear to me, that these questions indirectly, if not directly, partially measure elements of metacognition.

This makes me wonder, it would be interesting if the results of Klassen et al.’s study hold true with other forms of metacognition, such as metacognitive awareness. For example, how does it relate to metacognitive awareness factors that Schraw and Dennison (1994) suggest, such as knowledge and cognition (e.g., declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, conditional knowledge) vs. regulation of cognition (e.g., planning, information management, monitoring, evaluation)?  Or, as Klassen et al. did not use the entire battery of measures in the MSLQ, how does academic procrastination relate to other aspects of the MSLQ like Learning Strategies, Help Seeking Scale, Metacognitive Self-Regulation, etc. (Pintrich et al., 1993). Or how might Klassen’s results relate to behavioral measures of metacognition such as calibration or, how does it relate to the Need for Cognition (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982)?  These questions suggest that metacognition could play a very prominent role in academic procrastination.

There Are Always More Questions Than Answers

To my knowledge, researchers have yet to replicate Klassen et al.’s (2007) with an eye towards investigating whether metacognitive variables predict and mediate rates of academic procrastination.  Therefore, I feel like I must wrap up this blog (as I always do) with a few questions/challenges/inspirational ideasJ

  1. What is the relationship among metacognitive awareness and academic procrastination?
  2. If there is a relationship between metacognition and academic procrastination, are there mediating and moderating variables that contribute to the relationship between metacognition and academic procrastination? For example, critical thinking? Intelligence? Past academic performance? The type of content and experience with this content (e.g., science knowledge)?
  3. Are there specific elements of metacognition (e.g., self-efficacy vs. metacognitive awareness vs. calibration, vs. monitoring, etc.) that predict the frequency of academic procrastination?
  4. Can metacognitive awareness training reduce the frequency of academic procrastination?
  5. If so, what type of training best reduces academic procrastination?


Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1982). The need for cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42(1), 116.

Ellis, A., & Knaus, W. J. (1977). Overcoming procrastination. NY: New American Library

Klassen, R. M., Krawchuk, L. L., & Rajani, S. (2008). Academic procrastination of undergraduates: Low self-efficacy to self-regulate predicts higher levels of procrastination. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33, 915-931. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2007.07.001

Pintrich, P. R., Smith, D. A. F., Garcia, T., & McKeachie, W. J. (1993). Reliability and predictive validity of the motivated strategies for learning questionnaire (MSLQ). Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 801–813.

Schraw, G., & Dennison, R. S. (1994). Assessing metacognitive awareness. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 19, 460-475.

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 65–94.

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