Maths classes should be held in the morning because pupils are better at concentrating before lunch time, a study has found.
Meanwhile, youngsters will improve at history if they have lessons in the afternoon, according to a decade long study by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Researchers found children are better at repetitive tasks early in the day, while tasks that involve evaluation are best left to after lunch.
Velichka Dimitrova, a doctorate researcher at Royal Holloway, examined academic achievement, class schedules and absence rates at a secondary school in Bulgaria over nine years.
She found that children’s exam results could improve simply by rearranging timetables, and this could be a cost-effective way for schools to improve their results.
Dimitrova’s findings, due to be presented at the Royal Economics Society annual conference today at the University of Bristol, show that when teenagers had maths classes in the morning rather than the afternoon, their exam results improved by seven per cent.
Scheduling history classes, which require “perpetual-restructuring tasks”, in the afternoon rather than the morning, meant that test result improved by six per cent.
“In the morning our brains are better and fresher, so we are better at doing something repetitive like problem solving, where we require more speed and attention and focus,” said Dimitrova, who specialises in the economics of education and labour.
“In the afternoon it seems that this process slows down. On the other hand, history is better suited to the afternoon, when we are more creative and open to discussion”.
The findings back up psychology research which has found that it is better to perform repetitive, automatised tasks earlier in the day, while tasks that involve making sense of something are better done later on, it was suggested.
The study concludes: “The findings indicate that afternoon classes lowered maths test scores and increased history test scores, which relate to psychology and neuroscience research about optimal functioning in different times of the day.”
Dimitrova said: “Rearranging school schedules in a more optimal way does not require investment of additional resources and could be a cost-effective intervention leading to improvements in academic performance.”
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