Academic Procrastination And Academic Achievement

A recent meta-analysis reveals the expected costs of procrastination.

Posted Jan 05, 2016

Meta-analyses are very popular in the scientific literature. Although they may suffer from selection effects, missing both published and unpublished studies, we typically agree that it's useful and interesting to analyze the aggregate results of multiple studies.

A recent study by Kyung Ryung Kim (Yansei University, South Korea) and Eun Hee Seo (Seoul Women's University, South Korea) provides an interesting perspective on the relation between academic procrastination and academic performance. Drawing on a sample of 33 studies involving 38,529 participants, these researchers demonstrated both the obvious and some subtle distinctions worth noting.

First, the obvious bit. They did find that measures of academic procrastination predicted poorer academic performance. When the data are aggregated, it's pretty clear that more procrastination means lower grades.

The not so obvious part of their research that is worthy of note is that these results depended on other variables (in other words, they were moderated by other factors). Choice of procrastination measure mattered as did the source of the grades. Self-report measures of these variables didn't reveal the expected relation, most probably due to overestimation by the participants. Externally assessed procrastination and performance demonstrated a negative correlation.

In addition, characteristics of the sample mattered too. The relation between procrastination and academic performance was stronger for secondary school students.  (I expect high-school teachers are not surprised by this!).

Finally, and most interesting to me was how the results of their study supported my earlier critique of the notion of "active procrastination" (in fact, they cite my blog post in their research paper). Long-time Don't Delay blog readers may recall (and others can find the post here) that I argued that the notion of "active procrastination" is an oxymoron. In fact, I have a graduate student conducting a study this term to demonstrate how ill-founded this concept it. Sorry, I digress with a little rant . . .

In any case, what Kim and Seo concluded based on their meta-analysis which included the active procrastination measure was that ". . . the so-called 'active-procrastination' might not be a form of procrastination at all; it might be more appropriate to consider it as a completely separate construct" (p. 32). Certainly, the most recent doctoral dissertation completed in my research group (Haghbin, 2015) makes that very clear, and I am pleased to see this substantiated in this study as well.

Why is this final conclusion so important? Well, as Kim and Seo note, "Use of the term 'active procrastination' leads to a misunderstanding that it is good to put off studying because such delay can be beneficial . . ." (p. 32, emphasis added). Of course, their data showed just the opposite, and anything that might license us to procrastinate more is terribly foolish.

As Steel (2007) put so well in his earlier meta-analysis, ". . . procrastination is usually harmful, sometimes harmless, but never helpful" (p. 80).


Haghbin, M. (2015). Conceptualization and Operationalization of Delay: Development and Validation of the Multifaceted measure of Academic Procrastination and the Delay Questionnaire (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Kim, K. R., & Seo, E. H. (2015). The relationship between procrastination and academic
performance: A meta-analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 82, 26–33. doi:

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