4 in 10 UK Students Don’t Know Enough Words to Understand Exam Assignments

According to a BBC report, the latest Oxford University Press research on literacy has caused quite a stir. Turns out, almost half of the students in their first year of secondary school have an EXTREMELY limited vocabulary. It is so limited it actually affects their learning abilities! 800 secondaries who participated in the research claim the problem is worsening.


So, what’s the reason for the kids being so monosyllabic? Teachers blame it on too little reading for pleasure. The obvious conclusion suggested by the research results is as follows: vocabulary breadth correlates with the number of words a person comes into contact with on a daily basis. However, not only books are responsible for this, conversations with parents and friends play an important role as well.  


Word Gap Research: The Key Findings  


The report suggests that across all age groups the number of pupils with a limited vocabulary in UK schools remains "stubbornly high." This cannot be helped even by the programs addressing literacy.


  • 1,300 teachers in primary and secondary schools claim that over 60% of students of all ages have demonstrated underdeveloped vocabulary.  
  • 80% of teacher respondents have revealed that kids with limited vocabulary are challenged by the need to understand test papers.
  • The word gap holds back the academic progress in subjects like English (91%), history (90%), geography (86%) and religious studies (78%).
  • The negative impact of vocabulary deficiency is evident. Over 80% of teachers agree that students with a scarce vocabulary are more likely to have lower self-esteem.

The situation with a scarce vocabulary becomes more menacing when “a 16 year old in their GCSE exam would not be able to use any reference materials” to find the meaning of a certain word. If a student’s vocabulary is inconsistent with their age, “the written response may be less articulate,” which will lead to getting a lower mark.


Experienced teaching professionals believe the word gap depends on circumstances rather than choices. The factors like home, family, the richness of language, the presence of books and conversations, the habits — all of them form a student’s vocabulary. Some of these things, however, can be out of a kid’s control.


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