RESEARCH NEWS: Does coaching improve performance?

Well, of course, you’d expect me to say it does, wouldn’t you? So, I’m sorry to disappoint you. While there are some situations where it may well do so, there are others where it definitely doesn’t appear to do so. Here’s one:

Griffin, Carless and Wilson (2013) have just published the results of a fascinating study of the impact of coaching on aspiring students looking for a place at Australian and New Zealand medical schools. In those countries, students don’t just have to pass strict subject assessments (in the sae way that UK students pass A levels) but they also have to sit a test known as the Undergraduate Medical and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT). The UMAT is very different from academic assessments. It aims to assess a student’s ability to think critically, problem solve, understand people, and perform abstract non-verbal reasoning.

In their analysis, Griffin et al compared the performance of 402 students in their UMAT assessment. Over half (56.2%) had received coaching. The results were controlled for academic performance, high school type, and gender.

They discovered that coaching had NO effect for logical reasoning, problem solving, and understanding people. For high ability candidates only, it had a beneficial impact on their non-verbal reasoning. For lower academic ability candidates coaching had a NEGATIVE effect in this area.

Reference: Griffin B, Carless S, and Wilson I (2013) The effect of commercial coaching on selection test performance. Medical Teacher v35 (4): 295-300.

Best wishes

Some of you may know that I am currently the Executive Lead for Research for the “BACP Coaching” – the Coaching division of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. This article may appear in their limited circulation newsletter in due course.


  1. Those are very interesting findings, Graham.

    Most surprising is the lack of impact on understanding people – to the extent that, for me, it creates a question mark over the quality and nature of the coaching.

    I notice that there is no mention of the experiment being controlled for type of coaching, experience of the coach etc. – which perhaps are the most important factors/variables.


  2. Thanks, Alex.

    Yes, I agree. It does suggest all kinds of things about the nature of the coaching that is being delivered to these young people. Unfortunately, the ‘experiment’ involved the students being asked to complete some kind of categorising questions but didn’t (and probably couldn’t) have asked them much more – especially about the style and focus of their coaching. It needs a follow-up study, but the important thing is that there are different styles of coaching and the generic term doesn’t necessarily help improve our understanding.

    I often shock my peers when I explain that some of my clients have been working with me for more than 15yrs. How can that be? Have you not ‘fixed’ them yet? You can’t be very good…

    No, it’s just that my style of coaching delivers results regularly and continues to do so in the long-term.


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