Time-of-day preferences influence performance

Students’ preferences for what time of day they learn best appear to affect performance significantly. According to Roger Callan, Bishop Kearney High School, Brooklyn, New York, past research indicates that individualizing instruction to match learning preferences improves students’ academic achievement and attitude toward learning. When learning styles were matched with compatible instruction, improvement increased by 75 percent of a standard deviation.

Time-of-day preferences also appear to affect performance. Researchers have found that long-term memory seems to be stronger in school children taught at about 3 p.m. rather than at 9 a.m., while short-term memory seems to be stronger in the morning.

Students who reported a preference for working in the morning finished high school, on average, with grade-point averages one half of a letter grade higher than students who preferred to study in the afternoon or evening. Studies with elementary students indicate that they perform significantly better in whatever subject they are taught at their preferred time of day.

In the present study, Callan selected ninth-grade students in eight urban and suburban public and private high schools in New York City to participate in a study of time-of-day preferences and achievement in math. One hundred and nineteen students completed both the Learning Style Inventory (LSI) and an algebra test based on the State of New York Regents Mathematics Examinations.

Callan used the LSI because he considered it to be the most reliable and valid of all the currently available measures of individual learning preferences. The algebra test was judged by all eight mathematics department heads to be within the competence of their students.

Morning scores significantly higher

Results revealed a significant difference between the morning and afternoon test results: The morning scores were significantly higher. In addition, the students who preferred morning and were tested in the morning scored significantly higher than students who preferred morning but were tested in the afternoon.

However, there were no significant differences for the students who preferred afternoon, whether they were tested in the morning or the afternoon. “Evening-preferred” students scored significantly lower than “morning-preferred” students on morning tests. No gender differences were found.

Callan concludes that time-of-day learning preferences influenced math test performance in this sample of ninth-grade students. Morning-preferred students appear to have a distinct advantage when tests are given in the morning. The results are less clear for students who prefer to study in the afternoon or evening. Morning-preferred students score higher than students with other preferences.

This finding seems to imply that students with other time-of-day preferences are at a disadvantage. Callan suggests this may be true for such high-stakes test as the SAT-1 which is offered only at 8 a.m. He concludes that there is a need for further research to explore discrepancies in the test scores of equally able students to determine if time-of-day preferences might be influencing results.

“Effects of Matching and Mismatching Students’ Time-of-Day Preferences,” Journal of Educational Research, Volume 92, Number 5, June 1999, pp. 295-299.

Published in ERN September 1999 Volume 12 Number 6

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