The analysis of more than 3,500 German children found those who started out solidly in the middle of the pack
in 5th grade could jump to the 63rd percentile by 8th grade if they were very motivated and used effective learning strategies, said lead author Kou Murayama, a psychology researcher at the University of California Los Angeles.
"The growth in math achievement was predicted by motivation and learning strategies," Murayama told LiveScience. "Given that IQ did not show this kind of effect, we think this is impressive."
But in a vindication of exacting Tiger Moms everywhere, effective studying techniques and motivation, not IQ, predicted who had most improved their math skills by 10th grade. Kids who started out with average math abilities but were in the top 10 percent in terms of learning strategies and motivation jumped up by about 13 percentage points over the course of the study in their math abilities, Murayama said. Apathetic kids with high IQs showed no such jump.
Unfortunately, forcing kids to hit the books every night won't create mini-math prodigies. External factors such as parental pressure or grades didn't create a lasting boost in math ability.
"It is not a good idea to force students to learn mathematics," Murayama said.
Instead, people who were driven by their own interest improved the most.