Weirdest excuse ever for bad exam results revealed

Sometimes we don’t get the result we’d hoped for (Picture: Getty)

If you’ve spent all year studying, the last few weeks revising and a long night cramming, there’s nothing like the disappointment of not quite getting the exam grade you wanted.

But if you’ve just missed that mark, it may not be your fault.

Scientists from the University of South Australia have discovered a reason for lower results entirely beyond students’ control – high ceilings.

Which is rather unfortunate, given so many exams take place in huge gyms or massive halls.

The team, led by Dr Isabella Bower, analysed data from 15,400 undergrad students between 2011 and 2019 across three campuses at an Australian university, and compared exam results to the height of the ceilings in their exam rooms.

Even after factoring in age, sex, time of year, prior exam experience and general performance in coursework, they found students who took exams in rooms with higher ceilings had lower scores.

Exams are often taken in unfamiliar rooms, including gyms and halls (Picture: Getty)

However, they can’t yet say why this is the case.

Dr Bower said: ‘These spaces are often designed for purposes other than examinations, such as gymnasiums, exhibitions, events and performances.

‘The key point is that large rooms with high ceilings seem to disadvantage students and we need to understand what brain mechanisms are at play, and whether this affects all students to the same degree.’

She began investigating the link between ceiling height and exam performance following previous research into the effects of different rooms on brain activity.

Using virtual reality to adapt the environment – including lighting and noise – and electrodes to measure brain cell communication, Dr Bower and her team altered the room size to see what effects, if any, it had on individuals. They also measured heart rate, breathing and sweating.

The results showed that simply sitting in a bigger room caused more brain activity associated with concentrating on a difficult task. This then prompted the question of whether large spaces reduce task performance.

Months of study can sometimes boil down to one exam (Picture: Getty)

‘Based on these results we were curious to apply our lab findings to a real-world dataset and see if being in a large space like a gymnasium while having to concentrate on an important task would result in a poorer performance,’ said Dr Bower.

Co-author Associate Professor Jaclyn Broadbent, from Deakin University, added: ‘Examinations have been a key part of our education system for more than 1,300 years, shaping students’ career paths and lives.

‘In Australia, many universities and schools use large indoor spaces for exams to streamline logistics and costs. It’s crucial to recognise the potential impact of the physical environment on student performance and make necessary adjustments to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.

‘These findings will allow us to better design the buildings in which we live and work, so we can perform to the best of our ability.’

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