There’s no denying that exams bring the heat! Condensing a year’s worth of learning and a few months’ worth of revising into two hours can be tough. Exams don’t need to be made any tougher, but that’s exactly what is happening during the summer months. The Independent recently reported on the UK’s heatwave troubles, stating that students in buildings without air-conditioning perform around 13% worse in tests during heatwaves. How extensive is the problem, and what should be done to safeguard our students for the future?
The effect of heat on exam results
A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research showed the impact of heat levels on exam results. The study involved 10 million US secondary school students over the course of 13 years and was picked up by a number of news outlets as being the first major analysis of the correlation between higher temperatures and lower scores in test. One such outlet was the BBC, who reported the study’s findings that, for every 0.55°C increase to the overall average temperature, learning achievement fell by 1%. Anything over 21°C was noted as having a considerable impact on learning, with anything over 32°C accelerating this degrading of learning further. At over 38°C, the effect of heat on learning was observed to be particularly high.
Within the paper, the study outlines how the hot weather only impacted scores during hot school days — sunny weekends didn’t change achievement levels. But hot weather did impact educational time, both at school and during homework time.
From exam halls to student halls
Another study by Harvard University expanded on this, shifting focus from secondary schools to university accommodation. The study saw university students being observed during a heatwave, with some staying in air-conditioned rooms and others in rooms that weren’t air-conditioned. The students who didn’t get to enjoy the relief of air-conditioning systems scored lower in memory tests and problem solving.
And it’s not just the heat during exams at university or tests at school that can shake a student’s performance. While the US National Bureau of Economic Research’s study claims there was no impact of a weekend of hot weather on school results — rather, the effects were only noticeable if the school day itself was warm — there’s another time of the day when heat can cause a number of problems; night time.
Too warm to sleep?
During the 2018 UK heatwave, the Guardian reported on an increase in sleeping troubles. The surge in heat for a country rather unused to sunny climates caused many people to feel tired, short-tempered, groggy, and as a result, less productive.
Dr Michal Farquhar, a sleep medicine consultant, spoke to the Guardian regarding the issue: “Britain isn’t really designed to deal with higher than average temperatures. Unlike warmer climates, our homes are designed to keep us warm in the winter more than to keep us cool in the summer, and air conditioning is relatively rare in private homes.”
The doctor went on to say how the optimum sleeping temperature is quite restrictive (16°C-18°C), so a rise in temperature can be problematic for many, including students.
A cool solution
But with the effect of climate change seemingly here to stay, what can we do to help the tired, overly-warm, exam-suffering students?
The US National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard University both recommend using a good air-conditioning unit in educational areas, particularly exam halls. Both institutes noted that air conditioning had an observational impact on the damage heat did to students’ test scores.
The Guardian commented, however, that air conditioning is quite rare in the UK, especially in schools and universities. This makes historical sense, as the UK doesn’t have a history of extended periods of high temperatures, so air conditioning wasn’t a financially sound decision years ago. But with summers being regularly warmer each year, and heatwaves becoming all-too-common in our summer period, should the British mentality towards the value of air conditioning shift?
Indeed, the National Education Union advises UK schools to have a plan of action should the temperature rise over 26°C. Measures they recommend include moving pupils away from the windows, lowering computer use, encouraging drinking water in the classroom, and installing a well-maintained air conditioning unit. Companies like Daikin, for example, can offer their expertise towards fitting the right air conditioning system for a wide range of buildings, including educational environments. If the warmer summers are here to stay, the UK needs to look into upgrading its buildings to keep people comfortable and safe.