Ninety-three Michigan State University undergraduates were analyzed. They were divided into HWM and LWM groups based on their scores on two working memory tests. They completed one low-pressure and one high-pressure test, each consisting of twenty-four math problems. The former was treated as practice, while the latter was presented in a high-pressure environment involving commonly seen real-world pressure. Participants were told they were part of a "team effort" where an improved score would earn both team members a monetary reward (monetary incentives and peer pressure). They were also told they were being videotaped so local math teachers and professors could evaluate them (social evaluation). Since working memory is known to predict many higher levels function, this report questions the ability of high-stakes tests e.g. SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT to predict who are most likely to succeed in future academic endeavors.
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Sian Beilock is an Assistant Professor in the area of Brian & Cognitive Sciences in the department of Psychology at Miami University of Ohio. Dr. Beilock's research focuses on skill expertise and "choking under pressure."
Dr. Beilock is available for questions and interviews.