Secondary school students who fall asleep late and thus get less sleep, receive lower marks for examinations given during the early morning than their classmates do. This finding follows from a profile assignment of two secondary school students who took their final exams last year at De Nieuwe Veste in Coevorden. Groningen chronobiologists used their data in a scientific article published 26 December. As a result, the school will begin experimenting with adapted class hours.
More than a year ago Anne Siersema and Amy Pieper turned up at the Chronobiology department of the University of Groningen. ‘They wanted to find out how the chronotype, which is whether you are an early bird or a night owl (morning or evening person), affects school performance throughout the day’, explains Thomas Kantermann, who supervised the two secondary school students. ‘They managed to collect a unique data set’, he says. They gathered 4743 examination marks from 741 students at their school. At the same time they looked at which period the examination was taken in and, using a questionnaire, established the chronotype of all the students. School systems are so secure that it is impossible to export examination results, so all the grades had to be copied from a printed sheet and entered manually into a database.
Their profile assignment based on the examination marks was last year’s runner-up for the Jan Kommandeur Prize awarded by the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Groningen and later received the Education Prize of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). And now their data has been used for an academic paper for the Journal of Biological Rhythms in which Anne and Amy are both listed as co-authors.
Kantermann and his colleagues have carefully analysed the results for a second time. ‘The students who had had the least sleep and those with the most late chronotype, both achieved lower examination marks than other students, almost half a point lower.’ This will largely be the same group, because students with a late chronotype will generally fall asleep later and therefore have less sleep if they are to be at school on time. During the course of the morning these students start to perform better.
On the basis of these grades, Kantermann recommends that schools consider starting lessons later. ‘Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 20 have a different rhythm: they fall asleep later and are then not fully rested when they have to be at school early in the morning.’ And to give everyone an equal chance examinations should only be taken at the end of the morning.
De Nieuwe Veste school in Hardenberg will begin a trial this spring with a different timetable. The school of Anne and Amy in Coevorden is also considering conducting a similar trial next autumn. Kantermann will be advising them and he is now also working with a German school to collect more data. ‘I am very pleased with what these school students began!’
Contact: Dr Thomas Kantermann
Reference: Vincent van der Vinne, Giulia Zerbini, Anne Siersema, Amy Pieper, Martha Merrow, Roelof A. Hut, Till Roenneberg and Thomas Kantermann: Timing of Examinations Affects School Performance Differently in Early and Late Chronotypes. Journal of Biological Rhythms, DOI: 10.1177/0748730414564786 (online on 26 December 2014 via
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