“The Best Time of Day to Take Exams: New Research Finds Noon is Optimal”

2023-05-30 16:11:54

The circadian rhythm, the biological clock that determines the rhythm of human activity according to the hours of the day, is important in determining the way in which human beings carry out their activity. And for the success of that activity. The division between larks, who have their cognitive abilities at their peak in the morning, and owls, those who begin to display all their energy as night approaches, is a classic. That rhythm is also important for the performance of students who, depending on which group they belong to, prefer to study at one time or another. They can choose that. On what they have no decision is on the time of examination.

A study by researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) and Bologna has analyzed half a million exam results and, in case teachers dare to help students a little, they have concluded that 1:30 p.m. or, generically, noon It’s time for the best grades. This, in addition, is significantly more noticeable in the STEM exams (English acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects).

Researchers Alessio Gaggero, from the UGR, and Denni Tommasi, from the University of Bologna, have used the British higher education system for their study due to the more subjective characteristics of the examination method. There, university exams are distributed “almost randomly”, they explain, by the Student Services Offices of each university. By law, university students in Great Britain can only have one daily exam at set times: 9am, 1:30pm and 4:30pm. It is a computer program that performs the distribution of exams, and teachers and students find out at the same time when and what time the exam is.

The research focuses on this educational system because computer chance (with the exception of certain variables such as available spaces, the number of students in a specific exam and the duration of the exam mainly) suppresses any human conditioning that could have made decisions such as, To cite an example, placing difficult exams first thing in the morning.

Analyzed those 503,358 test results of 51,555 students taken between 2014 and 2010, the researchers describe an inverted U-shaped performance curve. That is to say, of the three schedules, the best grades come out at 1:30 p.m. Among the two remaining schedules, Alessio Gaggero explains that “the one in the afternoon, the one at 4:30 p.m., is by very little the next best”. Thus, the early morning at 9:00 is the least convenient for students. Therefore, everything indicates that noon is the best mean time for both larks and owls.

The research, published in The Economic Journal (Oxford University Press)shows that “students perform worse when they are not tested at the peak of their cognitive abilities”, which is at noon, and, on the other hand, also that the results are worse in the morning exams, those at nine in the morning , because there the owls can arrive with some sleep deprivation.

Until now, according to the researchers, the relationship between performance in important tests (of the classic Selectividad type or job interviews) with external factors such as heat or even pollution have been analysed. Less studied are internal factors such as the circadian rhythm, which is related to the external factor of the time of day at which the test takes place. When it comes to identifying the effects of what time of day is most interesting for the student, the researchers suggest that there are three other factors that may also play a role. Exposure to sunlight, the type of cognitive task and the age of the student.

In the case of light, the differences in the results are more significant between the different times in the winter exams. That is to say, on less bright days, the more a better performance is perceived at noon. Regarding the types of cognitive task, the performance improvement is more palpable in the exams in which “fluid intelligence, that is, working memory, logical thinking, problem solving and abstract reasoning” was required. Finally, students under 20 years of age are also the most sensitive to having different performance depending on the hour, explains Gaggero. The sum of all the results indicates that, in the winter exams, especially and for students in the first years of Science, having the tests after noon will offer them a small natural advantage that, if they have studied (this is inevitable), It will allow them to unleash their full potential.

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