Rain check on the sun: study finds hot weather negatively affects exam performance

Research claims to show that when temperatures go up, school performance goes down


A major American study has confirmed what Irish students have long suspected – hotter weather negatively affects exam performance.

Researchers at several US universities analysed the test results of 10 million US students over a 13-year period and concluded there is a “significant” correlation between higher temperatures and lower school achievement.

Junior and Leaving certificate exams begin in Ireland next month, and are traditionally associated with warm weather.

The American study – by academics at Harvard, UCLA and Georgia State University – claims to have produced the first clear evidence showing that when temperatures go up, school performance goes down.

The results showed this applied across the country – both in the cooler northern states and the much higher average temperatures in the south.

“We provide the first evidence that cumulative heat exposure inhibits cognitive skill development and that school air conditioning can mitigate this effect,” claimed the study, Heat and Learning, which was published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research.

Researchers calculated that for every 0.55 Celsius increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1 per cent fall in learning. The negative impact began to be measurable as temperatures rose above 21 Celsius and accelerated once temperatures rose above 32 Celsius.

According to the researchers, the study has left many questions unanswered. “Further questions about the impact of heat on learning remain. What portion of the achievement gap between hot and cool countries is explained by the direct impact of heat exposure on learning documented here? Does the impact of heat on learning we document have longer-term impacts on students’ economic outcomes? Other than school air conditioning, what other investments or actions can be taken to mitigate the impacts of heat on learning? We hope future work addresses such questions.”