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Marathon, Hurdling or Sprint? The Effects of Exam Scheduling on Academic Performance


  • Goulas, Sofoklis

    () (Stanford University)

  • Megalokonomou, Rigissa

    () (University of Queensland)


Would you prefer a tighter or a prolonged exam schedule? Would you prefer to take Math before Reading or the other way around? We exploit variation in end-of-course exam schedules across years and grades to identify distinct effects of the number of days between exams, the number of days since the first exam, and the exam order on subsequent performance. We find substantially different scheduling effects between STEM and non-STEM subjects. First, we find a positive relationship between exam performance in STEM subjects and exam order, controlling for other influences of scheduling, suggesting that the later in the schedule an exam is taken the higher the average performance. We call this phenomenon, exam warm-up. Second, we find a negative relationship between the number of days from the very first exam and subsequent exam performance in STEM subjects, suggesting the existence of a fatigue effect. For STEM subjects, the fatigue effect is estimated to be less than half the size of the warm-up effect. For non-STEM subjects, an additional day between exams is significantly associated with lower performance in subsequent exams. Students of lower prior performance have lower fatigue effects and higher warm-up effects in STEM subjects compared to students of higher prior performance. Also, we find that exam productivity in STEM increases faster for boys than it does for girls as they take additional exams due to a higher warm-up effect. Our findings suggest that low-cost changes in the exam schedule may have salient effects on student performance gaps.

Suggested Citation

  • Goulas, Sofoklis & Megalokonomou, Rigissa, 2018. "Marathon, Hurdling or Sprint? The Effects of Exam Scheduling on Academic Performance," IZA Discussion Papers 11624, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11624

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Decio Coviello & Andrea Ichino & Nicola Persico, 2014. "Time Allocation and Task Juggling," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(2), pages 609-623, February.
    2. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2010. "An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 210-240, April.
    3. Nolan G. Pope, 2016. "How the Time of Day Affects Productivity: Evidence from School Schedules," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(1), pages 1-11, March.
    4. Dills, Angela K. & Hernández-Julián, Rey, 2008. "Course scheduling and academic performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 646-654, December.
    5. Pope, Devin G. & Fillmore, Ian, 2015. "The impact of time between cognitive tasks on performance: Evidence from advanced placement exams," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 30-40.
    6. Giorgio Di Pietro, 2013. "Exam Scheduling And Student Performance," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(1), pages 65-81, January.
    7. Edwards, Finley, 2012. "Early to rise? The effect of daily start times on academic performance," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(6), pages 970-983.
    8. Thomas S. Dee, 2007. "Teachers and the Gender Gaps in Student Achievement," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(3).
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    More about this item


    gender gap; practice; exam warm-up; cognitive fatigue; exam schedule; STEM subjects;

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality

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