Psychological Institute of Russian Academy of Education,
Background. Exams such as the SAT, ACT, and GCSE are used to give an account of educational outcomes and provide a unified criterion for university admission. The Unified State Exam (USE) aims to fulfill these functions in Russia. All Russian students take two compulsory USE exams, mathematics and Russian, at the end of their school education.
Objective. Variability in the mathematics and Russian USE scores is vast, both across and within schools. Our study investigated potential sources of this variability.
Design. The sample included 196 students from regular schools (non-selected students) and 306 students from schools with advanced mathematical curriculum (selected students). The mathematical ability (numerical representation, mathematical fluency), intelligence, basic cognitive functions (working memory, reaction time), and mathematical self-efficacy of the students were assessed. We applied structural equation modeling to estimate the proportion of variability in the mathematics and Russian USE scores explained by cognitive predictors and mathematical self-efficacy.
Results. In the whole sample, cognitive predictors and mathematical self-efficacy explained 54% of the variation in the mathematics USE scores and 30% of the variation in the Russian USE scores. These effects diminished after the data were analyzed in two groups separately, suggesting that the associations between predictors and exam scores were to a large extent accounted for by group differences (students from regular and specialized schools).
Conclusion. The students from the schools with an advanced mathematical curriculum exhibited better cognitive performance, appraised their mathematical abilities higher, and achieved higher mathematics and Russian USE scores, compared to the students from regular schools. Within the groups, cognitive and non-cognitive predictors explained a small part of the variation of the mathematics and Russian USE scores.
Keywords: academic achievement, Unified State Exam, mathematical ability, intelligence, number sense