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Seeing an 'A' Raises Test Scores

Certain Letters of the Alphabet Can Affect Achievement, Study Shows

Do Neutral Letters Have an Effect? continued...

In a news release, Ciani says the research shows that “even without any explicit reference to success or failure,” the letters A and F significantly affected student performance on tests.

“We believe that the meanings inherent in the evaluative letters were enough to influence their performance through the motivational state that they produced,” he says. “Exposure to the letter A made the students non-consciously approach the task with the aim to succeed, while exposure to letter F made the students non-consciously want to avoid failure.”

And previous research, he says, suggests that “when people approach tasks with the desire to succeed they perform better than when striving to avoid failure.”

Teachers: Beware Unintentional Influence

In a third experiment, 76 undergraduates were asked to complete an anagram test after being exposed to the letters A, F, or J.

Again, the As did better, scoring an average 6.02 out of 7, compared to only 3.65, on average, for the Fs.

“We believe the primary implication from this research is that students are vulnerable to evaluative letters presented before a task,” the researchers say in the news release. “Teachers should be careful not to use identification systems that map onto assessment systems.”

Showing students letters may inadvertently prime them to do better or worse than they might otherwise, the researchers say, but latching onto this effect “may be desired by savvy teachers.”

The two conclude that “adorning classrooms with symbols of achievement may activate effort, pride, and the intention to perform well in standardized testing situations.”

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