Lexical reading ability predicts academic achievement at university level

Written by Graham Pluck on . Posted in Volume XXII, Nr 3


Graham Pluck*

Quito Brain and Behavior Lab, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador


The prediction of academic achievement with cognitive testing has important practical and theoretical implications. Although there are associations between cognitive performance and school grades, this does not extend well to higher education. An alternative to intelligence or IQ testing as a predictor of grades is lexical reading. Access to the mental lexicon is particularly important when reading aloud forms with irregular grapheme-phoneme conversion or unpredictable stress patterns. Such words have to be learnt and already present in declarative lexical stores to be reliably pronounced correctly. A sample of 102 participants was assessed with a standard test of lexical reading, the Word Accentuation Test (WAT) which involves pronunciation of a list of low-frequency words. To assess semantic-conceptual contributions to performance, they also completed a version of the WAT in which they read the same words embedded in sentences, as well as performed a stem-completion naming task. All the tests had good psychometric properties, and the two tests of lexical reading were both significant predictors of academic achievement. Reading aloud in sentences did improve pronunciation accuracy, particularly for poor readers. However, it did not add anything to the ability to predict GPA. In fact, when using linear regression, the best predictor of academic achievement (R = .40) was the pronunciation of low-frequency word forms presented in isolation. This predictive ability suggests that the breadth of learnt stores of lexical forms, but not associated semantic processing, may be an individual difference that can potentially predict college-level academic achievement. The association with dyslexia is also considered.

Keywords: reading, pronunciation, academic achievement, surface dyslexia, mental lexicon



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