U.S. Department of Energy

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Cognitive Depletion Impairs Performance on Standardized Tests

Publish Date: 
Friday, January 16, 2015
Standardized testing plays a central role in educational and vocational evaluation. By analyzing performance of a large cohort answering practice standardized test questions online, we show that accuracy and learning decline as the test session progresses, but improve following a break. To explain these findings, we hypothesize that answering questions consumes some finite cognitive resources, which recover during breaks between test questions. We construct a dynamic model of the consumption and recovery of these resources and show that performance declines as resources are depleted. We test several alternative hypotheses and show that depletion of finite resources best explains empirical findings. While further controlled experiments are needed to identify the physiological origin of these phenomena, our work highlights the potential of empirical analysis of large-scale human behavior data to explore cognitive performance.
Hodas NO. 2015. "Cognitive Depletion Impairs Performance on Standardized Tests." PNNL-SA-107555, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA.
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