Longer period between exam and resit increases success rate

Resits that are scheduled to take place shortly after the original exam leads to students not studying as hard. PhD student Rob Nijenkamp says it’s better to schedule them at a later date. By then, students will have forgotten most of the material. 

Most Dutch universities offer their students a chance to resit exams, sometimes fairly quickly after the first one. They also schedule resits to take place after the regular exams of the next block.

But Nijenkamp says the institutes should reconsider this policy. After all, students who know they’ll have a second chance after their first exam don’t try as hard. Which means there’s a bigger chance they’ll fail. 

‘Kooreman’s mathematical model already suggested this’, says Nijenkamp, who spent the last few years studying the impact resits have on students’ time investment and exam scores. ‘This model says that the optimal study time, the moment at which investing more time does not increase the chance of passing the exam, is shorter when there’s a resit. At the same time, a resit decreases the chances of students wasting time studying.’  

Time investment

Nijenkamp wanted to test this theory in practice. He asked large groups of psychology students to estimate how much time they would invest in a hypothetical exam, which either did or didn’t have a resit. ‘It quickly became clear that they would spend less time studying if they knew they could do a resit.’

Next, he tried to make the abstract situation resemble reality more. One way he did this was by asking students about exams they had actually done. ‘We asked them to imagine what they would do if they only had one shot at a resit, scheduled during the summer when they’d already booked a vacation. Most of them said they would spend more time preparing.’

This clearly shows that resits are a perverse incentive that entice students to not work as hard on studying for their exams. 

Exam tourism

Nevertheless, he’s not advocating for resits to be cancelled. This is due in part because his study supposes all students are ‘rational’ and are happy with just a passing grade. But not all students are happy with that. Another reason is that sometimes, students are simply ill. ‘Finally, students are much more relaxed when they know they can take a resit’, says Nijenkamp.

He does think educational institutes should take these effects into account, if only to prevent ‘exam tourism’. One way is to demand a minimum grade. ‘You could say students need to get a four out of ten in order to qualify for a resit.’ 

But an even better solution would be to schedule more time between the two exams. His study also shows that when students think they’ll have forgotten most of the material by the time the resit rolls around, the effect is smaller. ‘They have to study the material all over again, so not preparing properly wouldn’t pay off then.’


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