The Impact of Time Between Cognitive Tasks on Performance: Evidence from Advanced Placement Exams

Ian Fillmore, Devin G. Pope

NBER Working Paper No. 18436
Issued in October 2012
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies

In many education and work environments, economic agents must perform several mental tasks in a short period of time. As with physical fatigue, it is likely that cognitive fatigue can occur and affect performance if a series of mental tasks are scheduled close together. In this paper, we identify the impact of time between cognitive tasks on performance in a particular context: the taking of Advanced Placement (AP) exams by high-school students. We exploit the fact that AP exam dates change from year to year, so that students who take two subject exams in one year may have a different number of days between the exams than students who take the same two exams in a different year. We find strong evidence that a shorter amount of time between exams is associated with lower scores, particularly on the second exam. Our estimates suggest that students who take exams with 10 days of separation are 8% more likely to pass both exams than students who take the same two exams with only 1 day of separation.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18436

Published: Economics of Education Review Volume 48, October 2015, Pages 30–40 Cover image The impact of time between cognitive tasks on performance: Evidence from advanced placement exams Devin G. Popea, , , Ian Fillmoreb citation courtesy of

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