What do children who do well in school have in common? According to a new study from the Universities of Nottingham and Bristol, children with better attention skills score higher on tests. The study measured children’s attention in elementary school and checked in on their academic performance in high school. Children with higher levels of inattention performed worse on exams. The results point to the importance of helping children learn attention skills early on.
The researchers analyzed data on over 11,000 children. The children were involved in the Children of the 90s, a population-based study from the University of Bristol. Data came from questionnaires and from standardized test scores. When the children were seven years old, teachers and parents completed questionnaires about the children’s behavior, which included questions about inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and opposition/defiance. The researchers evaluated the questionnaire data against the children’s GSCE scores—the GSCE is a series of subject-specific tests that students take at age 16. The analysis accounted for factors like IQ, parent education levels, and social class.
There is a linear relationship between inattention at age seven and test scores at age 16. For every point that a child’s inattention increased at age seven, there was a two to three point reduction in GSCE scores. There was also an increased chance of six to seven percent that a student would not achieve a minimum of five ‘good’ GSCE scores (grades A to C) for every point that a child’s inattention increased. These trends were present across the whole sample.
Lead researcher Kapil Sayal, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, explains that even a small amount of inattention can affect later test scores. “Teachers and parents should be aware of the long-term academic impact of behaviours such as inattention and distractibility. The impact applies across the whole spectrum of scores at the population level and is not just confined to those scoring above a cut-off or at the extreme end.”
The findings suggest that early prevention strategies for inattention are critical for later academic success. Helping students learn how to manage their time, minimize distractions, and prioritize their work could help them do better in school later on.
This research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
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