Why It Helps to Be Tough in the Race to the Top; Exam Success Linked with Mental Strength

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Byline: Abbie Wightwick Education Editor

"MENTAL toughness" is as crucial as intelligence for passing exams, according to a new academic study pioneered in Wales.

Teenagers preparing for GCSEs were asked to complete a personality quiz developed by Welsh company AQR along with Dr Peter Clough, head of psychology at Hull University.

Results showed those scoring highly on the mental toughness measure did better in cognitive ability tests (CATs), leading to calls for schools to give lessons in the subject.

The report concluded, "It is thought the more mentally tough a person is, the more likely they are to do well in a test (because they are more confident) and feel the more likely they are to absorb learning because they are more confident and feel more in control."

Children scoring high for the characteristic were also less inclined to see themselves as being bullied and more likely to have high career aspirations.

The MTQ48 Mental Toughness Questionnaire measures how people respond to challenges, stress and pressure.

The study based on answers given by 14 and 15-year-olds at Halewood College in Knowsley, near Liverpool, also showed teachers were more likely to view mental toughness in girls as negative behaviour, perhaps because they weren't conforming to their idea of how girls ought to behave.

AQR, based in Rossett near Wrexham, is now calling for mental toughness to be routinely taught in schools in Wales and elsewhere as a way to improve results.

Managing director Doug Strycharczyk said, "Mental toughness is as important as an IQ test. The study shows mental toughness is as important as innate intelligence for passing exams."

Damian Allen, executive director of children's services at Knowsley Borough Council, said, "The results of this study are incredibly exciting.

"They have shown for the first time that there is a direct link between the mental toughness of a pupil and their behaviour, well-being and performance.

"With the work wehave been doing with AQR and Dr Clough, we find ourselves at the leading edge of a truly exciting development in the way we work with the development and education of children."

Dr Clough one of the UK's leading occupational psychologists, analysed the results of the study.

He said, "Innate ability doesn't always lead to better exam results.

"As in sport, mental toughness seems to have a significant role to play in achievement in tests, which points the way to improving student performance outside of the normal academic routes.

"The test scores demonstrate that students who scored higher on the mental toughness measure did better in their CATs.

"They achieved higher results in verbal, non-verbal and quantitative tests in their CATs than those who scored lower in the mental toughness measure."

He said the results could also be used for new ways to tackle bullying and perceived bullying.

NUT Cymru's education officer Dr Heledd Hayes agreed that people's ability to cope with the mental strain of exams was important.

"You don't really know what's going on in a pupil's head and sometimes the apparently calmest are the ones going through mental hell and not showing it," she said. …