Self-regulation, executive function, working memory, and academic achievement of female high school students

Roberta Kathryn Halloran, Fordham University


Self-regulation, executive function and working memory are areas of cognitive processing that have been studied extensively. Although many studies have examined the constructs, there is limited empirical support suggesting a formal link between the three cognitive processes and their prediction of academic achievement. Thus, the present study hypothesized that working memory performance would predict students' self-report of executive function and self-regulated learning strategies which would subsequently predict academic achievement. The sample consisted of 155 freshman and sophomore female high school students at a private school in New York City. Students electronically completed questionnaires about their self-regulated learning strategies (i.e., The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire) and their executive functioning (i.e., The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function—Self Report). Additionally students' working memory abilities were assessed with the Automated Operation Span task (AOSPAN); a computer-adapted task requiring dual processing of simple math operations and the recall of letters. Results from multiple regression analyses revealed that students' working memory performance did not predict students' report of self-regulation, executive functioning, or academic achievement as measured by final grades and PSAT scores. However, students' reports of self-regulated learning strategies, or cognitive engagement, were found to significantly predict academic achievement in English. Cognitive engagement was not found to predict math achievement nor did it predict critical reading or math PSAT percentile score. It appears that self-regulated learning strategies are most predictive of achievement when the ultimate goal is mastering the content of verbal material in English classes. Therefore, by creating an environment that encourages the use of regulatory and organizational behaviors, teachers can begin to facilitate a change in cognitive strategies, which could subsequently lead to increased retention of mathematical information in the classroom and on standardized testing. Since the results indicate that working memory did not predict academic achievement, the construct should not be considered as a sole predictor of students' ability to succeed academically. These results are promising for students who demonstrate weaker working memory skills. Since working memory does not directly impact academic achievement, students can compensate for working memory difficulties by employing other cognitive engagement strategies that successfully impact achievement.

Subject Area

Educational tests & measurements|Educational psychology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Halloran, Roberta Kathryn, "Self-regulation, executive function, working memory, and academic achievement of female high school students" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3452791.