A recent study suggests that students who take earlier classes earn better grades than those who take later classes.
But the study’s findings do not seem to hold true at Virginia Tech.
In this study, which was conducted by Pamela Thacher and Serge Onyper at St. Lawrence University in New York, 253 students at the school took surveys and tests measuring memory and cognitive function.
At the end of a semester, the researchers gathered the grade point averages of the participants in the study to see if there was a relationship between amount of sleep, quality of sleep, and start time of classes.
“Later class time and more sleep does not translate into a higher GPA or better academic performance,” Onyper said. “If students don’t have anything in the morning, they are more likely to go out and party.”
Onyper said there is a minor difference regarding the times of classes influencing grades —students’ GPAs were about .02 higher for each hour earlier that classes start. But the study also revealed that the biggest influence, in terms of scheduling, is drinking.
The study has come under some criticism because it did not take into consideration numerous other factors that influence students’ decisions to schedule classes at certain times.
Edward Weisband, a political science professor at Tech, said this study overlooked differences in students’ biological rhythms, which can affect their learning ability at certain times of day.
“That kind of generalization is dubious,” Weisband said. “You have to take into account people’s different rhythms (that) play an important role in how people learn and perform.”
Weisband explained there are two major groups when it comes to learning. There are the early hawks, who work best in the morning and lose energy as the day goes on. Then there are the night owls, who prefer to start the day later and gradually work up to their peak performance capabilities.
Haley Young, a first-year graduate student studying accounting, is one such early hawk. Her ideal class time is 9:30 a.m.
“I’m a morning person,” Young said. “I like having the rest of the day free.”
Young said she thinks students who take morning classes tend to get better grades because the students who are willing to get up that early are more dedicated, productive and are likely to study.
Adrienne Sanchez, a sophomore accounting major, said she prefers afternoon classes.
Sanchez said she tried to take more morning classes so that she would have her afternoons free to study, but when she went to her early classes, she did not pay attention because she was too tired.
“If class is too early, I am not motivated to go, especially living off campus. It takes so much longer to get there,” she said.
Onyper agreed that different biological rhythms are important factors to consider.
“It’s a good point. You do have to account for the preferences, but the relationship between (different biological rhythms) and grades wasn’t there in the sample,” he said.
Weisband also said the study should have taken into account different learning styles. He said whether a person is a critical and symbolic reasoning learner or an analytic thinker has large implications on what hours of the day they perform best.
But Onyper said current research suggests different learning styles don’t exist.
“It’s a myth. Students don’t learn better one way or the other,” Onyper said.
Peter Doolittle, the director of the School of Education at Tech, agreed with Onyper.
“There is no good solid research that supports learning styles as an approach,” Doolittle said. “(Different learning styles) have no impact on student performance.”
Arthur Buikema, a biological sciences professor at Tech, said he disagreed with the study’s findings that later classes suggest lower grades.
“I have just as many ‘A’ students at 8 a.m. as I do at two in the afternoon. Good students do well regardless,” Buikema said, adding that he has never changed his teaching methods throughout the day.
He said some faculty members actually prefer to teach at 8 a.m. because fewer students show up and their classes are smaller.
Some students prefer morning classes as well, though maybe not quite as early as 8 a.m.