‘Thirsty Thursdays’ have negligible effect on test performance for students
Study analyzes memory−retention rates after alcohol consumption
Published: Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 09:04
Common sense dictates that significant alcohol consumption the night before a big test is not advisable — brain cell destruction and a morning hangover don't exactly seem conducive to academic performance.
However, a recent study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health in conjunction with Brown University suggests that so−called "Thirsty Thursdays" may have little to no impact on testing performance, potentially opening a proverbial can of worms when it comes to college alcohol culture.
The study, which was led by Professor Jonathan Howland of the Boston University School of Public Health and Professor Damaris Rohsenow from the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown and is featured in this month's edition of the scientific journal Addiction, found that, while binge drinking the night before a test negatively affects mood, reaction times and attention levels, actual test results were only negligibly effected.
To determine the effects of binge drinking upon testing performance, the researchers selected 193 Boston−area college students, all of legal drinking age. Over a four−day period, groups of participants were provided, in a controlled environment, with either nonalcoholic or alcoholic beverages. Subjects provided with alcohol, under the supervision of medical professionals, drank until their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) reached 0.12 percent, higher than the legal Massachusetts driving limit of 0.08.
The next day, the researchers administered to both groups a variety of neurological tests, along with a version of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and a quiz based on a mock lecture that the participants had attended the previous day. The next week, the groups switched and repeated the process.
The scientists conducting the study noted in their hypothesis their expectation that long−term memory, as tested by the GRE, would be affected less than short−term memory (as tested by the quiz based on the mock lecture). In actuality, the quiz results among the drinking groups were marginally higher than those of the placebo groups (a difference of .11 points between the averages), while the average GRE verbal scores were 2.23 points lower and quantitative scores were 3.37 points higher for the drinking groups than for the placebo groups. This indicates that binge drinking had a minimal impact on both forms of information retention.
In a Boston University School of Public Health press release, Howland noted that his research team was "surprised by the test−taking results, because some prior studies have found that occupational performance was impaired the day after intoxication."
Howland added that the findings are hardly conclusive. "Test−taking is only one factor in academic success. Study habits, motivation and class attendance also contribute to academic performance; each of these could be affected by intoxication," he said.
The results of the study, regardless of the degree to which they can be applied to the college student community at large, shed light on the internal debate of many a drinker: with a test tomorrow, to indulge or not to indulge?
"I would think that three beers or something like that the night before a test wouldn't have any affect on how someone would do on a test," sophomore Kyle Paoletta said.
Paoletta isn't convinced, however, by the results of the Boston University study. According to him, the drinking standard established by the study doesn't match the alcohol consumption level of a significant portion of college students.
"I would consider binge drinking to be a lot higher than .12 [BAC], so I'm not surprised that people did well the day after drinking that amount," Paoletta said.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking to bring a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above," or the consumption of five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in the span of two hours, according to the study.
"I don't drink before tests, and the study doesn't make me more inclined to do it," freshman Ned Coltman said. Coltman, like Paoletta, thinks the study is inherently flawed.
"In actual cases, if you drink before a test, then you're probably already prepared for it anyway," Coltman said.
The Boston University experiment did not include any studying on the part of the participants; the only preparation for the testing was attendance at the mock lecture on which the quiz was based and the administration of a practice test to familiarize participants with the GRE, which is based on knowledge acquired over the course of a student's academic career.
"Test−taking is only one factor in academic success. Study habits, motivation and class attendance also contribute to academic performance; each of these could be affected by intoxication," the researchers noted in their press release.
Regardless of the test results, freshman Lauren Tvedten Kopka finds the notion of alcohol consumption the night before an exam illogical. "I don't see how you can do well on a test unless you've had enough sleep," Kopka said. "I think that hangovers are pretty unavoidable."
"How much sense does it make to binge−drink the night before an exam?," sophomore Gabby Horton said. "I understand the whole ‘live it up, you're only in college once' thing, but really? Just wait until the weekend."