Test Scores Are in the Genes

More than school or family environment, a child’s genetics influences high school exam results.

By Jef Akst | December 16, 2013

FLICKR, ALBERTO GGenetics accounts for some 58 percent of the variation in test scores of more than 11,000 high school students taking the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education), a qualifying exam common in the U.K., according to a study published in PLOS ONE. In contrast, students’ school environment and home life accounted for only 36 percent of the variation.

“Some children find it easier to learn than others do, and I think it’s appetite as much as aptitude,” Robert Plomin, an expert in behavioral genetics who led the study at King’s College London told The Guardian. “There is a motivation, maybe because you like to do what you are good at.”

Plomin and his colleagues came to their conclusions by comparing the test scores of identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, to non-identical twins, who share only half their genetic material. The researchers suggest that because schools aim to give an equal education to all children, genetic differences impacting educational success are apparent. Of course, identifying specific genes that might play a role will be difficult, Plomin admitted.

Professor of science education Michael Reiss of the Institute of Education in London argued that knowing the role of genetics in academic is not particularly helpful. “Some people have to wear glasses because of genetic defects, and other people wear them for reasons that have nothing to do with genetics. As long as you are wearing glasses in school, it doesn’t matter at all,” he told The Guardian. “The genetics is utterly irrelevant.”

But Plomin disagreed, suggesting that genetic differences underlying variation in learning ability should be taken into account when designing school programs. “Education is still focused on a one-size-fits-all approach, and if genetics tells us anything it’s that children are different in how easily they learn and what they like to learn,” he told The Guardian. “Forcing them into this one academic approach is going to make some children confront failure a lot, and it doesn’t seem a wise approach.”

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo


Avatar of: PastToTheFuture


Posts: 118

December 16, 2013

“The genetics is utterly irrelevant.” ... How ideological can you get? And I bet he complains about CLimate Change Deniers.

Avatar of: blumberg


Posts: 32

Replied to a comment from PastToTheFuture made on December 16, 2013

December 16, 2013

You're taking it out of context.  In his hypothetical both students are wearing glasses and thus are on equal footing.  Whether they have a genetic defect or were hit in the eye with a baseball is irrelevant.  However, his metaphor falls apart quickly since we don't have "corrective lenses" for differences in the way students learn, which may or may not be genetic.

Avatar of: JM_1234321


Posts: 7

December 16, 2013

Test scores and everything else organisms do are _BIO CHEMISTRY / BIOLOGY._


Everything is physics ('bodies in motion' / cause and effect); and ALL bio chemistry ('biology') stems from physics.


Whether an organsim's biology is deemed to be formed by nurture events (eg 'getting hit in the eye') or nature events (ie genes AND all the nurture events --eg EPI GENETICS AND _ET CETERA_-- that cause genes to arrange and express the way they do) is symptom of human brains (pattern seekers --even if delusional) drawing an imaginary line (eg "macro- micro- evolution" / "species").


@>"genetics is utterly irrelevant.”


Irrelevant to what?


--How to make everyone "smarter"?


--A study that seeks to learn details of the differences between us, using the vocab of the era ("genes")?




Irrelevant to what?


...Getting rid of 'liberal' sophists (eg lawyers etc) is more important than getting rid of the dumb.


Avatar of: Raharu


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from blumberg made on December 16, 2013

December 19, 2013



We do have corrective lenses for being less gifted, actually. It's called hard work.


Avatar of: Hugh-F-61


Posts: 77

December 19, 2013

I agree with Plomin. People remember things that excite them. This makes evolutionary sense. A novel nutritious food or a new source of danger is well worth remembering and understanding. If a lecturer pops a balloon during a talk you can bet the students will remember the next sentence. Some children always want to know WHY?, others just take life as it comes. Some askers may be quickly discouraged, of course. Many pupils just do not see relevance in anything, so they cannot learn. A few of these may get a job or a hobby, find it is interesting and then study to a high level because it is now interesting. Some people just rote-learn life and never question or think. That is also a good strategy, If your parents survived doing this then copying them exactly will also be successful, but not if circumstances change. About 58% of these difference (strictly variance) in learning abilities and strategies are genetic, and it is stupid to ignore this. The poor will always be with us.

Michael Reiss is missing the point. Some students will teach themselves, some will remember after one telling, others may require prolonged explanation, and some will never get it. Education needs to be tailored to individual pupils. Some school catchments will need a higher staff/student  ratio  than others because their pupils are less intelligent on average for unavoidable genetic reasons. Some children gain nothing by compulsory education after a particular individual level, usually early teenage, a time when evolutionary success came from starting reproduction. Politicians ignore genetics for political reasons. The left say poor ignorant workers would be bosses if they had the same opportunity, the right say poor ignorant workers would be bosses if they worked harder at it. Both put blame on the other class, very useful, but totally ignoring the reality that some people are just born cleverer than others.

Avatar of: Hugh-F-61


Posts: 77

Replied to a comment from Raharu made on December 19, 2013

December 19, 2013

No lense can make the blind see, and if you try wearing glasses in a steamy kitchen you will soon realise that they are not perect. No lens corrects a bumpy cornea either. Hard work doesn't work in the way you claim. If it did we could all  be marathon champions and boxing champions and beat Bolt at sprinting and be virtuoso musicians and singers. I guess you are political right, if anyone has problems it is their fault.

Avatar of: Jax


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from Hugh-F-61 made on December 19, 2013

December 27, 2013

Is this really news?  Cognitive neuroscience has established this years ago.

Popular Now

  1. Two University of Rochester Professors Resign in Protest
  2. Dartmouth Professor Investigated for Sexual Misconduct Retires
  3. Theranos Leaders Indicted For Fraud
    The Nutshell Theranos Leaders Indicted For Fraud

    Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges that allege the company’s promise to revolutionize blood testing swindled investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars and put patients in danger.

  4. Koko the Signing Gorilla Dies at 46