Taking Tests Too Close Together Leads To “Cognitive Fatigue”
Do students perform better when they have more time between big tests? The Freakonomics blog reports:
“A new working paper by Ian Fillmore and Devin G. Pope examines whether ‘cognitive fatigue’ has any impact on exam results. The researchers looked at the number of days students had between AP exams, and found that resting time matters:
In this paper, we identify the impact of time between cognitive tasks on performance in a particular context: the taking of Advanced Placement (AP) exams by high-school students. We exploit the fact that AP exam dates change from year to year, so that students who take two subject exams in one year may have a different number of days between the exams than students who take the same two exams in a different year.
We find strong evidence that a shorter amount of time between exams is associated with lower scores, particularly on the second exam. Our estimates suggest that students who take exams with 10 days of separation are 8% more likely to pass both exams than students who take the same two exams with only 1 day of separation.’” (Read more here.)
Students often don’t have the opportunity to schedule their own tests, but when they do, they may want to consider spacing them out. Teachers, too, can heed these findings by consulting with their colleagues and making sure their students aren’t taking important tests too close together in time. More broadly, it would be beneficial for all of us to realize that cognitive fatigue is a reality, and to pace ourselves when we’re doing intellectually demanding work.