While temperatures rise, students' grades drop

While temperatures rise, students' grades drop
Credit: ULB

Hot days and heatwaves sweeping across the country make studying difficult, and students are seeing their grades drop as the mercury rises.

A Harvard University study from 2018 shows that hot weather can cause exam results to decline, as scientists analysed the study results of 10 million students over the course of 13 years. With every half a degree increase, a student’s average score drops by 1%.

Belgian Professor of Neuropsychology Céline Gillebert is not surprised by the results, De Morgen reports. “In research, we see that people who live in a warmer climate perform worse on cognitive tests than people in a cooler climate.”

“In addition, studies looking at the influence of indoor temperature show that heat has an influence on your working memory (the ability to retain information for a short time) and your ability to concentrate. Exposure to a high temperature will ensure that you can study less effectively and for a shorter period of time.”

Studying in the park

“The next few days it will simply be too hot to sit outside. So I thought this was the ideal moment to get out of my room,” student Vicki Hoogsteijns said, revising for exams in Antwerp’s city park.

She says studying under a tree has a positive effect on her exam results. “But I do make sure that I sit in the shade. If I put myself in the sun now, my eyes immediately close.”

However, as everyone steps outside with the sunny weather, noises from playing children or barbecues also increase. “Sometimes students are so preoccupied with the search for a cool and quiet study place that they have little mental space to focus on their studies,” says Gillebert.

Ella Konings also opted for studying outside to escape the blazing heat. “Of course I can’t ask the whole park to be quiet. I only come here to revise when I’ve already mastered the basics. The heat really doesn’t bother me, so the research surprises me.”

Heat compensation

Harvard researchers see grades drop when temperatures rise higher than 21°C and therefore advise considering raising the grades for students who are forced to take exams in a warm environment.

However, Professor Gillebert thinks that might be too extreme. “We are currently feeling a short period of intense heat. That cannot be compared to a prolonged heat wave. We didn’t adjust the exam results during the Covid period, when studying was also difficult, so there's no reason to do that on a few warm days.”

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While the students in the park agree that those measures are unnecessary, they would appreciate more attention to the fact that studying is harder. “On our campus there is an auditorium without windows, which is really a bunker. In the summer we all sit there sweating and I find it difficult to concentrate.”

Survival tips

Teleblok, an online platform for students, is there to help students get through the heat. Elise Gozin from Teleblok suggest finding a cool place to study, such as a library, or keeping curtains and shutters closed when you are at home.

“Try to give your brain a break every now and then so it doesn’t overheat: a shower, a short walk or a juicy fruit salad can do the trick. And don’t try to study for three hours straight. Regular short breaks often work more efficiently during the hot days,” Gozin advises.

Gillebert adds that sleep is also essential during the exam period, as it allows you to store new information and process it better. “We sleep less well when it is hot. I therefore advise students to move their mattress to a cool room.”

In addition, the professor advises to drink a lot of water. “People who don’t hydrate very much score worse on cognitive tests and can have concentration problems.” Gozin agrees with her: “Drinking a lot is absolutely important. Although you can have a coffee or at times an energy drink, try to alternate sufficiently with water.”

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