Academic skills can significantly contribute to the possibility of finding a job, improving one's financial situation and accessing a higher level of education. Among school skills, reading and math they are the ones that impact practically all stages of a student's life. Several studies have tried to identify variables related to success in these two areas.

In a recent study, Geary and colleagues (2020) [1] investigated the relationship between different variables and reading and math skills in a group of 315 second and third grade students. All participants were evaluated through:

  • IQ test (Raven matrices and vocabulary)
  • Tests related to reading and mathematics (numerical operations and reading tests)
  • Other cognitive tests (span of digits, lists of words to memorize, Courses test)

Furthermore, study motivation (estimate of the importance of the topics to be studied), anxiety towards mathematics and attentional behavior were investigated.

Intelligence (coupled with working memory) resulted the main parameter for predicting the speed and accuracy of reading and mathematical skills. Attentional behavior, on the other hand, seems to have a more significant role in mathematics than in reading. Lack of attention, in practice, could lead to slower learning of math. Another assumption that the authors came to after analyzing the data is that spatial skills could enhance the effectiveness of mathematics learning; furthermore, visuospatial tests (such as the Corsi test) could help to understand the differences in mathematical success between different children. Verbal short-term memory turned out to be the only predictor related to reading (accuracy and speed), but not to mathematics.

Cognitive skills, attention in the classroom and the subject's interest in the subject seem closely related. On the one hand, the lack of attention could be due to the fact that the student with school difficulties sooner or later loses interest in the subject; moreover, students with higher cognitive abilities invest more time in school learning because they have fewer difficulties. From this point of view, it is necessary to make the subjects more interesting and easier to understand to keep the students' attention; It has been found that students with both math and reading difficulties have a higher risk of experiencing educational and occupational problems throughout their life.

There are many variables that can correlate with academic difficulties (such as the environment in which one lives, etc.). Despite these limitations, this study opens up new potential areas of research for understanding academic difficulties beyond simple evidence related to school learning.


Geary David C., Hoard Mary K., Nugent Lara, Ünal Zehra E., Scofield John E., Comorbid Learning Difficulties in Reading and Mathematics: The Role of Intelligence and In-Class Attentive Behavior, Frontiers in Psychology, 11: 3138, 2020

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