Psychologists say memory is the key to good GCSE results. Sarah Cassidy reports
SUCCESS at GCSE is dependent on having a good memory, not a high IQ, according to new research into exam performance by cognitive psychologists.
Astonishingly, IQ had no impact on exam performance in an inquiry into the links between 130 above-average candidates' attainment at GCSE, IQ tests and memory games.
However, general memory ability, independent of IQ, was found to account for up to 20 per cent of variance in exam results in research by John Wilding and Elizabeth Valentine of Royal Holloway College, University of London.
The suggestion that GCSEs rely more on memory than understanding is further ammunition in the hands of those campaigning to abolish them. Critics claim that the exam stands in the way of attempts to develop a coherent curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds.
For all candidates above a basic intelligence threshold, GCSE favoured those who could reproduce memorised material rather than those who were capable of devising original solutions, said the report.
Dr Wilding said: "It is a rather encouraging finding if GCSE is not just a test of intelligence. There are many other factors which affect performance. Obviously it is designed to test recall of a body of knowledge and candidates who were inherently good at that had an advantage."
The study, published in the latest edition of the journal Educational Psychology, used specially-devised memory tests to assess the short-term and long-term memory skills of 130 17-year-olds and compared the findings with the pupils' GCSE results.
It was carried out on above-average intelligence sixth-formers and junior Mensa members using Cattell IQ tests and memory games.
However, the remaining variation in exam performance remained unaccounted for, implying that factors such as motivation, application, study methods and home background were the most significant determining factors of GCSE performance, said the report.
Much of the previous research attempting to establish factors which contribute to successful exam performance has concentrated on identifying successful study strategies.
Pupils in the study who said they used memory techniques such as mnemonics to revise did no better at GCSE than their classmates who did not.