Boredom-inducing examinations: study

Monday, 11 September, 2023

Boredom-inducing examinations: study

Research led by the University of Vienna has found that students experience boredom during exams and that this has a negative effect on results.

The study, which involved psychologists from the University of Vienna, the University of Konstanz, the University of Zurich, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, the LMU Munich, the City University of New York, the University of Essex and the Australian Catholic University, had its results published recently in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

In the study, a total of 1820 German students in the 5th to 10th grades were examined. Questions about the extent of boredom, of being under-challenged and over-challenged and the personal relevance of the tasks were directly included in the test.

The main causes of boredom were found to relate to being both under-challenged and over-challenged during the exam. In addition, test boredom was significantly higher when the exam content had no personal relevance for the students. The main result of the study was that a high level of test boredom had a negative effect on exam results.

The academics proposed the so-called abundance hypothesis for the first time in their study, which they were able to confirm. On the one hand, the abundance hypothesis states that boredom especially deteriorates exam performance if students are over-challenged, because all mental resources would have to be allocated to completing the tasks, ie, those that are used for experiencing boredom but are no longer available for working on the tasks. On the other hand, in the case of boredom as a result of being under-challenged, resources are available in abundance for processing the tasks anyway.

From the study results, the researchers also derived some recommendations for teachers and guardians.

“In order to combat test boredom, teachers should prepare exam tasks in such a way that they relate to the reality of students’ lives. In addition, the tasks should not be very under-challenging or over-challenging,” said Thomas Götz, educational psychologist from the University of Vienna.

“Parents or guardians can also support young people by starting an open conversation about possible over-challenging or under-challenging tasks at school. Especially in the case of being over-challenged at school, it is important to react quickly to avoid boredom and also other negative consequences, such as a downward spiral of poor performance.

“A large number of studies already show that boredom has not only had a detrimental effect on learning and performance but also on mental and physical health. With our work, we are now expanding the view to a central area in the everyday school life of children and adolescents, namely exams.”

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