Higher Education

, Volume 77, Issue 4, pp 657–678 | Cite as

Information-seeking behaviour and academic success in higher education: Which search strategies matter for grade differences among university students and how does this relevance differ by field of study?

  • Hannes WeberEmail author
  • Dominik Becker
  • Steffen Hillmert


Today, most college students use the Internet when preparing for exams or homework. Yet, research has shown that undergraduates’ information literacy skills are often insufficient. In this paper, we empirically test the relation between information-seeking strategies and grades in university. We synthesise arguments from the literature on information-seeking behaviour and approaches to learning in tertiary education. Building on the distinction between deep- and surface-level learning, we develop a classification of online search strategies and contrast it with traditional information behaviour. Multivariate analyses using a two-wave online survey among undergraduate students at a German university indicate that using advanced online information-seeking strategies is a significant and robust predictor of better grades. However, there are notable differences between subject groups: Traditional information behaviour is still crucial in the humanities. Advanced search strategies are beneficial in all settings, but only one in four students uses these early on, while this share increases to around 50% over the course of studies.


Information-seeking behaviour Approaches to learning Information literacy skills Learning environments Achievement Higher education 



The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Leibniz ScienceCampus Tuebingen “Informational Environments”.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of TuebingenTuebingenGermany

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