The Role of Cognitive Skills in Academic Performance


By: Kamlesh D Patel (Daaji), Guide, Heartfulness Institute

Cognitive skills occupy a very vital role in the overall development of an individual. We use these skills while solving problems, remembering tasks, and making decisions; and they affect the quality of our learning and performance. This article will shed light on cognitive skills and their relevance in the learning process.

Cognitive skills include some of the core functions of the brain such as thinking, reading, learning, retaining information, and paying attention. 

One of the basic and the most important cognitive skills is attention. Attention enables us to process the necessary information from our environment. We usually process such information through our senses, stored memories, and our other cognitive processes.

Meanwhile, a lack of attention inhibits and reduces our information processing systems. This means that we become distracted and struggle to remember and reproduce what we have been taught. We can see this when people try to multitask; for instance, trying to watch a programme and write an email or message. It is difficult to manage both tasks simultaneously and competently. In reality, it is our grab interest that keeps our attention glued.

Memory is another cognitive skill which allows us to recall information. For example, a student remembers the main points of last week’s science class thanks to this important cognitive skill, in this case, their long-term memory. The proviso is that the student paid attention to the information in the first place!

This example also shows that cognitive skills are inter-related. Our long-term memory is only effective if we are paying attention to a subject, and we store the information in our short-term memory banks, also known as our working memory. The information stored in our working memory, once contemplated for a while, slips into our long-term memory.

However, an inability to pay attention to, and to retain, information in the classroom can lead to longer term challenges in both the classroom, and our lives. Learning to stack the ques of objects to be memorised greatly helps in recalling.

Other cognitive skills include logic and reasoning, auditory and visual processing, and processing speed. Logic and reasoning help us to solve problems and generate ideas. In classroom learning especially, students need logic and reasoning to solve, plan, analyse, understand, and deduce necessary information.

Auditory processing is used by our brains to understand information which we hear and listen to. We blend, analyse, and segment, sounds to process this information. This cognitive skill helps students to listen to the teacher in a classroom and interpret the information received.

As the name suggests, visual processing helps us interpret images effectively. Strong visual processing skills allow us, amongst other things, to formulate designs and make sense of graphs and tables. Weaker visual processing skills may lead to difficulties in understanding what we have seen or read; and they produce challenges in terms of recalling information, following directions, reading maps, and doing mathematical word-problems. 

Processing speed helps us to perform tasks quickly and accurately. Inefficient processing speed means that we take a long time to complete tasks for school or work and have difficulties in following instructions. Processing becomes faster with right understanding of the subject matter. Even the games not well understood cannot be played out even for fun.

Classroom learning can be enhanced further if the student is exposed to the lesson that is being taught. For example, if the lesson 5 is planned for Friday, students could grasp more on the lesson if they had familiarised or worked on that lesson at home on their own few days earlier. Idea is to remain ahead of the class.

Now that we understand more about these cognitive skills and their functions, it is easier to understand their importance in a classroom setting. Cognitive skills are the mental capabilities which are essential for students to be able to learn effectively. Learning processes in schools require students to read, write, think, analyse, remember, solve, and understand their topics. Each of these cognitive skills should come together, and complement each other, to function effectively. Such skills determine the success of learning outcomes. It is also helpful to understand that most learning challenges are caused by inadequate cognitive skills, and worth asking – how are we enabling our future leaders to grow? What tools can we provide for their growth in a nurturing environment?

Schools can start focusing on developing student’s cognitive skills through multiple approaches and age-appropriate training. Physical activities and brain exercises have a positive effect on brain health and cognition. Research has established that certain chemicals (like endorphins) released during exercise stimulate neural connections and brain growth.

In addition, teachers can try to enhance children’s creativity by exposing them to art, music, and crafts. Nurturing a child’s curiosity and engaging them in brain-stimulating activities like jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, or crosswords can significantly influence logic and reasoning skills. Another important activity is the interaction of the students with the natural world around them. To be in tune with nature sets a natural course for life in general.

About the author:

Kamlesh D Patel (Daaji) is Guide of Heartfulness Institute. He offers a practical, experiential approach to personal growth and transformation that is simple, easy to follow, and available to people of all ages and walks of life. Daaji is a prolific speaker and writer, and his two books, The Heartfulness Way and Designing Destiny, are both #1 bestsellers.