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F is for Fail

April 15, 2010

Exposing students to the letter “F” before taking a test makes them more likely to fail it.


How tests fail students…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When it comes to taking tests, everyone wants an"A" and not an "F". But now researchers at the University of Missouri have found that exposure to the letter "F" before taking a test can actually make students more likely to fail. Ken Sheldon and Keith Ciani had students write either the letter "A" or "F" on each of the five pages of a basic test of analogies and anagrams. Afterwards, Ciani says they compared the students’ performance.

KEITH CIANI (University of Missouri):
Students that were exposed to the letter "A" before taking a test actually performed better than those with an "F". So our conclusion is that "A" can actually enhance performance and exposure to "F" can actually hurt performance.

Ciani attributes the effect to a psychological phenomenon called priming, and suggests that teachers avoid influencing their students’ achievement through unconscious priming. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.