Want to improve exam scores? Get them in early, suggests research

The timing of sitting exams can play a pivotal difference in the test outcomes, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers reviewed results from about 2 million national standardized tests taken in Denmark by students aged 8 to 15, from 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, finding that students aged 15 and under suffered from mental fatigue as the school day progressed, and that their test scores dropped later in the day. The effect appeared to be the greatest on those who scored the poorest — suggesting that tests later in the day might hurt struggling students the most. However, the research also found that the idea of giving pupils some time off during the school day helped improve exam performance.

The researchers also recommend that standardised tests be held at the same time of day, to avoid throwing off the results by making some take them when their brains are taxed.

The findings revealed that test performance decreased as the day progressed. As each hour went by, scores declined. But they improved after breaks of 20 minutes to 30 minutes, the research showed.