Comment »Posted on Wednesday 24 March 2010 at 10:44 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Health & Medicine

Students and alcohol are never far apart, but most manage to hold off the booze when they’ve got an important test the next morning. Now it seems they needn’t worry, as researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health have found that combining last-minute revision with a couple of beers isn’t a problem. Heavy drinking the night before an exam had little effect on a student’s academic performance, but they did have worse moods and slower reflexes.

The researchers recruited 196 student for the study, and randomly assigned them to either a strong beer or a non-alcoholic placebo beer. The students spent the evening drinking in a controlled environment before retiring for the night, and then in the morning were subjected to both academic and mental performance tests. One week later they did it all over again, but with the opposite beverage.

Drinking sessions lasted just over an hour, during which male students had to drink an average of around 3 pints of beer, while females were served closer to 2 pints. The particular amounts were tailored to each individuals body weight, with the aim of achieving a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.12%. The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines “binge drinking” as a BAC of 0.08%.

Unsurprisingly, 70% of students assigned to the alcoholic beer complained of a hangover the next morning. This didn’t seem to affect their exam performance however, as regardless of beverage all students scored relatively high on a mock exam and a quiz on a lecture from the previous day. Despite this, students rated their own test performance as worse if they were hungover.

These findings contradict previous research showing links between alcohol consumption and academic problems. The researchers suggest that a third factor such as personality could be the cause of both – perhaps some failing students are driven to drink. They also warn the research shouldn’t be used as an excuse for excessive drinking:

“We do not conclude…that excessive drinking is not a risk factor for academic problems. It is possible that a higher alcohol dose would have affected next-day academic test scores. Moreover, test-taking is only one factor in academic success. Study habits, motivation and class attendance also contribute to academic performance; each of these could be affected by intoxication.”

I’d be inclined to agree with them. Taking exams isn’t fun and neither is being hungover, so why risk the combination? Instead, wait until the test is over, then head to the nearest pub. Just don’t spend the entire evening dissecting the exam questions!

Howland, J., Rohsenow, D., Greece, J., Littlefield, C., Almeida, A., Heeren, T., Winter, M., Bliss, C., Hunt, S., & Hermos, J. (2010). The effects of binge drinking on college students’ next-day academic test-taking performance and mood state Addiction, 105 (4), 655-665 DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02880.x

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