grit test

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Grit" by Angela Duckworth. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is Angela Duckworth’s grit test in Grit actually useful? What are some criticisms of the grit test?

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth put together a grit test to measure where you are on the grit scale—in other words, to see how gritty you are. However, many psychologists have critiqued her test for a number of reasons.

Here is Angela Duckworth’s grit test and its critiques.

Measuring Grit: The Grit Test

How do you measure grit? Duckworth quantifies grit through a self-assessment that she developed. You can take it yourself and see how much grit you have.

(Shortform note: The book covers only 10 items, but the quiz we’re including below is an adaptation of the original 12-item Grit Scale from Duckworth’s landmark 2007 study. You can find this test, and a shorter, 8-question version, on her website.)

For each statement, answer:

  • Not at all like me
  • Not much like me
  • Somewhat like me
  • Mostly like me
  • Very much like me

The 12 statements:

  1. I have achieved a goal that took years of work.
  2. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
  3. I finish whatever I begin.
  4. Setbacks don’t discourage me.
  5. I am a hard worker.
  6. I am diligent.
  1. I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.
  2. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
  3. I become interested in new pursuits every few months.
  4. My interests change from year to year.
  5. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
  6. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.

For the first six questions, score your choices as:

  • Not at all like me = 1
  • Not much like me = 2
  • Somewhat like me = 3
  • Mostly like me = 4
  • Very much like me = 5

For the second six questions, score your choices as:

  • Not at all like me = 5
  • Not much like me = 4
  • Somewhat like me = 3
  • Mostly like me = 2
  • Very much like me = 1

Now add up your score—there’s a possible total of 60. Then divide that by 10. The higher your score, then the more grit you have.

Here are the approximate percentiles of grit across the population: 

  • The 10th percentile, or well below average, has a grit score of 3.0.
  • The 50th percentile, or average, has a grit score of 4.6.
  • The 80th percentile, or above average, has a grit score of 5.2
  • The 99th percentile, or the very top, has a grit score of 5.9

Angela Duckworth’s grit test measures both perseverance and passion. The first six questions deal with perseverance—your ability to persist through obstacles. The second questions deal with passion—how consistently you maintain your interests over time.

Duckworth notes that many people score higher in perseverance than in passion. It seems to be easier for most people to work hard than to maintain a consistent focus. It’s easy to get attracted to a new idea. It’s hard to maintain that passion over a consistent period of time without giving up.

Critiques of Angels Duckworth’s Grit Test

A number of psychologists have critiqued Duckworth’s test. One criticism notes that the way she frames the questions affects the answers—in order to score high, a respondent must answer the perseverance questions in the affirmative but the passion questions in the negative. For example, for “I am diligent,” they would have to respond, “Very much like me,” but for “My interests change from year to year,” they would have to respond, “Not at all like me.” Studies that adjusted the questions so that all questions required an affirmative answer for the high score returned very different results, suggesting that Duckworth’s data was based on a faulty methodology that didn’t actually capture her subjects’ mindsets accurately.

Another criticism argues that even though Duckworth sets out to measure both perseverance and passion, she really only measures perseverance. Duckworth herself has expressed regret at not including questions that better examined a person’s long-term goals and acknowledged that the test correlates more strongly with traits of conscientiousness than passion. 

The third line of criticism objects to the inclusion of passion-focused questions at all. This argument claims that subsequent research has revealed a strong correlation between perseverance and success but no such correlation between passion and success. In fact, some studies suggest that a single-minded focus on an unchanging goal corresponds with lower rates of success, possibly because people in this mindset have trouble recognizing when it’s time to change direction. 

Critics in this camp note that as long as a person isn’t constantly changing her mind, there doesn’t seem to be an advantage in sticking with a goal indefinitely. And it’s worth remembering that Duckworth herself changed careers twice—she started out in management consulting, then moved to teaching high school math, and then went into psychology.

The fourth line of criticism builds on that third objection, arguing that Duckworth’s test actually measures two separate traits that aren’t correlated. Studies show that perseverance and passion are distinct characteristics that don’t affect each other. A person can have high perseverance but low passion, and vice versa. Thus, critics in this camp suggest grit doesn’t actually exist as she describes it, but it’s instead a combination of two separate qualities.
To these critics, Duckworth might reply that they’re missing the point. While it’s true that people might have varying levels of either perseverance or passion and that these qualities can vary independently of one another, grit measures where they collide, and in the end, it’s the people who have a strong work ethic and the passion to sustain that ethic over the long haul who will be more successful. 

Angela Duckworth’s Grit Test: Does It Work?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Angela Duckworth's "Grit" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Grit summary:

  • How your grit can predict your success
  • The 4 components that make up grit
  • Why focusing on talent means you overlook true potential

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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