Symposium Presentation 2 – Students who bring drinks into exams perform better

Water consumption in exams and its effect on students’ performance

Chris Pawson, Mark R Gardner, Rute Soares, Sarah Doherty, Laura Martin and Caroline J Edmonds


Objectives: This study investigated the relationship between water consumption during exams and exam performance. A growing body of literature suggests that dehydration negatively affects cognition in adults. However, there is a relative paucity of enquiry exploring whether drinking water can aid cognition under normal conditions. The current study sought to address this by exploring the potential benefits of water consumption for adult learners.

Design: The study compared the exam performance of students who brought drinks in to exams and those that did not. It was predicted that students who brought drinks in to exams would perform better. In order to test the potential explanation that any group differences may be due to the increased likelihood of more capable students bringing in water, the analyses were conducted whilst covarying for general ability as measured by coursework marks.

Methods: Data were collected from three different cohorts of undergraduate study (n = 447). Researchers targeted a single exam amongst each cohort and noted which examinees had brought water into the exam. The marks attained by students in the target exams, and their coursework performance marks, were collated after the exam marking process.

Results: The results showed students who brought water to the exam performed better than students who did not. When coursework marks were covaried, this effect remained significant, suggesting that it was not simply that more able students chose to bring water.

Conclusions: This implies that water consumption may aid cognition in everyday settings, and therefore have specific implications for assessment procedures.

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