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Table of Contents
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 34-37

The role of working memory as a significant determinant of academic performance

1 Department of Clinical Psychology, Santosh Medical College and Hospital, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Department of Clinical Psychology, Institute for Communicative and Cognitive Neurosciences, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India

Date of Web Publication6-Dec-2021

Correspondence Address:
Mathew Varghese
Department of Clinical Psychology, Santosh Medical College and Hospital, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2455-1732.331793

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Context: Working memory plays a crucial role in determining the overall academic performance of a child irrespective of whether the child is learning disabled or not.
Aims: The aim of the study is to explore the cognitive profile of the three categories of children: specific learning disability (SLD), Non-learning disabled (NLD), and scholastically poor children.
Settings and Design: In the present study, three groups of children in the age range of 8–11 years studying in three to seventh standard, were selected as the sample for the study.
Subjects and Methods: The three categories of children selected are SLD children, NLD children, and children who are scholastically poor. The three categories of children were administered with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (Indian adaptation) test to analyze the cognitive profile. The cognitive pattern of each group is analyzed and compared.
Statistical Analysis: Independent sample t-test was used for statistical analysis.
Results and Conclusions: The results show that there is a gross and specific deficit in the domain of working memory among the SLD and scholastically poor children, which indicates that working memory plays a determining role in academic performance.

Keywords: Perceptual reasoning, processing speed, specific learning disability, verbal comprehension, working memory

How to cite this article:
Varghese M, Rani S, Nair AK. The role of working memory as a significant determinant of academic performance. Santosh Univ J Health Sci 2021;7:34-7

How to cite this URL:
Varghese M, Rani S, Nair AK. The role of working memory as a significant determinant of academic performance. Santosh Univ J Health Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 8];7:34-7. Available from: http://www.sujhs.org/text.asp?2021/7/2/34/331793

  Introduction Top

Learning disability is one of the major reasons for the poor academic performance of school-going children.[1],[2] Mostly, it goes undetected, but scholastically poor children are often categorized into a generic label of learning disability without considering the inherent cognitive factors contributing to the difficulty in learning. Scholastic backward children and children with learning disabilities are identified by their learning problems and their poor achievement in school.[3] Both learning disability and learning difficulties, present with similar features. Deficit in working memory is a significant determinant in learning.[4] It is seen that children with low score in working memory always perform poorly in academics, and it has recently been suggested that deficits in working memory might be a cognitive phenotype for children who make slow progress at school but who do not have general learning difficulties.[5]

The term “working memory” refers to the capacity of the brain to store and manipulate information in mind for a short period during complex cognitive activities. Working memory is one of the executive functions responsible for goal-directed problem-solving behavior, in addition to inhibition, shifting, planning, and other processes.[6] Working memory plays a crucial and significant role in learning. Deficiency in the working memory affects learning. Children with working memory difficulty have severe difficulty with academics and perform poorly at school and are more likely to be inattentive, forgetful, and easily distracted in class, leading to careless mistakes while reading, writing, and doing math problems. A review of literature suggests working memory as a key component in learning and academic performance. Working memory is important in learning, and is affected among children with specific learning disability (SLD) such as reading disorder, mathematical disorder, and disorder in written expression.[7] Working memory affects learning, and any person with difficulty in learning may have a significant deficit in working memory.[8]

Research has provided numerous indications that specific learning disabilities are associated with working memory impairments.[9],[10] Learning disability children show deficits in all measured aspects of working memory functions.[11] This is substantiated by other studies and may lead to the conclusion that these children are more severely impaired with respect to their working memory than children with either dyslexia (reading disability) or dyscalculia (math disability), a fact that might explain the broader learning disorder.[12]

  Subjects and Methods Top

The participants for the study include three categories of children, making a total of 121 children. The three groups of children are children with a clinical diagnosis of specific learning disorder (Specific Learning disability (SLD), N = 77), normal children termed as nonlearning disabled (Non-learning disabled (NLD), N = 24), and children with poor scholastic performance (N = 20). The SLD group was selected purposively from the outpatient clinic diagnosed by a multidisciplinary team of professionals working in the area of neurodevelopmental disorders, based on the International Classification of Diseases-10 classification. The NLD group and the group of scholastically poor children were selected from a local school and were ruled out for SLD.


The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children fourth edition (WISC IV) Indian adaptation is used to assess the cognitive functions of each group of children. The WISC-IV Indian adaptation is an individually administered clinical instrument for assessing the cognitive ability of children aged 6 years to 16 years 11 months. It provides subtests and composite scores that represent intellectual functioning in specific cognitive domains, as well as composite scores that represent general intellectual functioning. The ten subtests of WISC-IV were administered from which the composite scores were derived. The assessment measures the ability across four areas of cognitive functioning and produces scores that show how well he/she performed in these areas, as well as producing a composite score that represents his/her overall intellectual ability (FSIQ). The subtests are drawn from four areas of cognitive ability, i.e., verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed.[13]

Data analysis

The data analysis is done by comparing the index scores and the full IQ score of the three groups derived using the WISC-IV. The study has examined the Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI), Perceptual Reasoning Index (PRI), Working Memory Index (WMI), Processing Speed Index (PSI), General Ability Index (GAI) obtained from VCI and PRI, and the Cognitive Proficiency Index (CPI) obtained from WMI and PSI.[14] The scores were compared for the statistical difference of the mean scores using the independent sample t-test.

  Results Top

[Table 1] shows the t-value and its significance between the SLD children and the NLD children with regard to the index scores derived from WISC-IV. The results show significant differences in all the four index scores along with the GAI and CPI.
Table 1: Mean, standard deviation, t-value, and its significance between specific learning disability and nonlearning disability

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[Table 2] describes the significant difference between the children with SLD and the scholastically poor children. The t-value shows a statistically significant difference in the domain of VCI and PSI. The t-value in VCI is found to be 3.02 (significant at 0.01 level) with a mean score of 95.36 for the SLD children and 102.25 for the scholastically poor children. It is seen that children who are scholastically poor have an intact language skill. The t-value for the PSI is found to be 1.93 which is significant at 0.05 level. The mean value for the SLD children is 94.65, and for the scholastically poor children, it is 101.4.
Table 2: Mean, standard deviation, t-value, and its significance between specific learning disability and scholastically poor

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[Table 3] depicts the t-value between the NLD and scholastically poor children. A significant difference is observed in the domain of PRI and WMI. The t-value for PRI is 3.96 significant at 0.01 level. The mean score is 105.46 and 93.05, respectively, for NLD and scholastically poor children. The t-value for WMI is 5.44 significant at 0.01 level. The mean value is 103.29 and 89.35, respectively, for NLD and scholastically poor children.
Table 3: Mean, standard deviation, t-value, and its significance between nonlearning disability and scholastically poor

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  Discussion Top

A significant difference is observed in all the indexes between LD and non-LD based on independent t-tests. When looking at the index scores, there is a significant difference in all the scores with a marked dip in WMI (which is 84) for SLD children. The mean score for the LD shows average scores in all indexes except for working memory. The difference between both the groups is significant at 0.01 level. The cognitive profile for LD shows average scores in the three indexes except WMI.

The index score of the SLD children was further compared with scholastically poor children, who are also NLD, and it is observed that the index score of the scholastically backward children is more compared to LD children in all the index scores except almost the same score in PRI. There is a significant difference between the two groups concerning VCI and PSI, but there is no significant difference in PRI and WMI. The PRI score is found to be average for both the groups, indicating that the perceptual reasoning is not affected, whereas the WMI is found to be below average for both the groups, indicating that the cause of poor scholastic performance is due to poor working memory skills.

Similarly, when the score of the scholastically poor children and NLD children is compared, it is observed that the index score of the NLD children is more compared to scholastically poor children in all the index scores, but it is noted that there is a significant difference observed in perceptual reasoning and working memory.

Hence, it may be concluded that poor scholastic performance of children who are actually NLD may be attributed to working memory deficit, as a clear reason for their poor scholastic performance. A study by Alloway shows that impairment in working memory leads to learning difficulties and difficulty in performing daily classroom activities. Poor working memory affects the performance of simple classroom tasks such as remembering instructions to more complex tasks such as storing and processing information and keeping track of progress in difficult tasks.[15] Swanson and Siegel in a research review study substantiate the results of working memory deficits among the children with learning disability in the domain of reading, mathematics, and attentional process, which affects their normal achievement.[16] Henry studied the degree of impairment in working memory and the severity of learning disabilities. He concluded his finding by stating that children with mild to moderate learning disabilities were impaired in all the measures of working memory, when compared to children with average working memory abilities.[17] These studies substantiate our findings assuming the scholastically backward children as normal children without any disability and also belong to the non-LD group, and the group of SLD children both shows gross deficit in the area of WMI. It may be evidenced that working memory skills contribute to their poor academic performance.

  Conclusion Top

The results show that working memory plays a key and significant role in determining the academics and scholastic performance of a child, irrespective of whether the child is LD or NLD. It may be concluded that working memory deficits may be categorized as a disorder affecting learning and other areas of life.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Karande S, Kulkarni M. Poor school performance. Indian J Pediatr 2005;72:961-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
Singh S, Sawani V, Deokate M, Panchal S, Subramanyam AA, Shah HR, et al. Specific learning disability: A 5 year study from India. Int J Contemp Pediatr 2017;4:863-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
Maehler C, Schuchardt K. Working memory functioning in children with learning disabilities: Does intelligence make a difference? J Intellect Disabil Res 2009;53:3-10.  Back to cited text no. 3
Schuchardt K, Maehler C, Hasselhorn M. Working memory deficits in children with specific learning disorders. J Learn Disabil 2008;41:514-23.  Back to cited text no. 4
Gathercole SE. Working memory deficits in slow learners: Risk factor or cognitive phenotype? Proceedings of the 8th Sepex Conference, 1st Joint Conference of the EPS and SEPEX; 2010.  Back to cited text no. 5
Pennington BF, Ozonoff S. Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1996;37:57-87.  Back to cited text no. 6
Mokhtar M, Aghababaei S, Ahmad A. Working memory and learning disabilities. Int J Dev Disabil 2013;59:35-46.  Back to cited text no. 7
Swanson HL, Cochran KF, Ewers CA. Can learning disabilities be determined from working memory performance? J Learn Disabil 1990;23:59-67.  Back to cited text no. 8
Alloway TP, Gathercole SE. Working Memory and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Hove: Psychology Press; 2006.  Back to cited text no. 9
Pickering SJ, Gathercole SE. Distinctive working memory profiles in children with special educational needs. Educ Psychol 2004;24:393-408.  Back to cited text no. 10
Pickering SJ. Working memory in dyslexia. In: Alloway TP, Gathercole SE, editors. Working Memory and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Hove: Psychology Press; 2006. p. 7-40.  Back to cited text no. 11
Gathercole SE, Alloway TP, Willis C, Adams AM. Working memory in children with reading disabilities. J Exp Child Psychol 2006;93:265-81.  Back to cited text no. 12
Wechsler D. WISC-IV Technical and Interpretive Manual. India: PsychCorp Pearson; 2003.  Back to cited text no. 13
Raiford SE, Weiss LG, Rolfhus E, Coalson D. General Ability Index. WISC-IV, Technical Report # 4; 2005.  Back to cited text no. 14
Alloway TP, Alloway RG. Investigating the predictive role of working memory and IQ in academic attainment. J Exp Child Psychol 2010;106:20-9.  Back to cited text no. 15
Swanson HL, Siegel L. Learning disabilities as a working memory deficit. Issues Educ 2001;7:1-48.  Back to cited text no. 16
Henry LA. How does the severity of a learning disability affect working memory performance? Memory 2001;9:233-47.  Back to cited text no. 17


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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