Using Machine Learning to Predict University Student Failure Based on Recurring Assignment Procrastination


  • Jay Lalwani Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program Intern
  • Aditya Daga Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program Intern
  • Dr. Mihai Boicu Aspiring Scientists' Summer Internship Program Mentor



Researchers have long considered procrastination as a form of self-destructive behavior and a key factor in university students’ failure (Steel, 2007). In order to predict student failure and allow early warning, we developed and trained a neural network based on second-week activities that allow multiple attempts in a college course at George Mason University. The following procrastination-related inputs were computed: average time spent between a student’s first and last attempt through all assignments, average time remaining before each assignment deadline from the last attempt, average assignment grade, and the average number of assignment attempts. The neural network consists of an input layer of 4 perceptrons, 6 hidden layers, and a single output perceptron. We trained it with each student’s corresponding final grade (pass or fail determined by a grade above or below 59%). Our neural network had an accuracy of 91.6%, precision of 89.9%, and recall of 99.5%. Those who were misclassified largely consisted of passing students with a grade near the passing threshold. Additionally, using permutation feature importance, we found that the average time remaining before the assignment deadline was the most important feature in the neural network resulting in an 18% decrease in classification accuracy when its value was randomized, as students who tended to submit assignments late consistently failed the course. Because procrastination is so common among university students, our model is relevant and an appreciable tool for professors to use to try to minimize failure in their class. By warning students of their failure behavior earlier in the course, they will be compelled to address their procrastination tendencies and greatly reduce their chances of failing (Martin et al., 2015).





College of Engineering and Computing: Department of Information Sciences and Technology