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Br J Educ Psychol. 2013 Mar;83(Pt 1):160-81. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8279.2011.02061.x. Epub 2012 Jan 3.

Task complexity, student perceptions of vocabulary learning in EFL, and task performance.

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Centre for Instructional Psychology and Technology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, K. U. Leuven, Belgium.



The study deepened our understanding of how students' self-efficacy beliefs contribute to the context of teaching English as a foreign language in the framework of cognitive mediational paradigm at a fine-tuned task-specific level.


The aim was to examine the relationship among task complexity, self-efficacy beliefs, domain-related prior knowledge, learning strategy use, and task performance as they were applied to English vocabulary learning from reading tasks.


Participants were 120 second-year university students (mean age 21) from a Chinese university.


This experiment had two conditions (simple/complex). A vocabulary level test was first conducted to measure participants' prior knowledge of English vocabulary. Participants were then randomly assigned to one of the learning tasks. Participants were administered task booklets together with the self-efficacy scales, measures of learning strategy use, and post-tests. Data obtained were submitted to multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and path analysis.


Results from the MANOVA model showed a significant effect of vocabulary level on self-efficacy beliefs, learning strategy use, and task performance. Task complexity showed no significant effect; however, an interaction effect between vocabulary level and task complexity emerged. Results from the path analysis showed self-efficacy beliefs had an indirect effect on performance. Our results highlighted the mediating role of self-efficacy beliefs and learning strategy use.


Our findings indicate that students' prior knowledge plays a crucial role on both self-efficacy beliefs and task performance, and the predictive power of self-efficacy on task performance may lie in its association with learning strategy use.

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