The Peer Pressure of Finishing An Exam Early

Today is the final exam of my course at IIMB. It’s a two part exam – students have been given the problems today and they have to describe on paper how they are going to approach the problem. Tomorrow I’ll send them relevant data and then they need to build an Excel model and solve the problem.

The point of this blog post, however, is to do with the peer pressure of finishing an exam early. Today’s exam is taking place in two rooms, with the students having been divided equally between the rooms. I’m writing this two and a half hours into a four hour exam, and so far about a dozen students have handed in their papers. The interesting thing is that eleven of these are from one room, and one from the other.

This makes me wonder if there is some kind of “peer pressure” in terms of finishing an exam. When you hand in your paper early, you signal one of two things – either that you have really aced the exam or that you really have no clue. By looking at the people who have walked out so far and their academic reputations, it is possible for the remaining students to know whether the people who have left have aced the exam or given up.

So the question is if there is some kind of gamesmanship involved in finishing an exam early. Let’s say a stud walks out of a 4-hour exam in an hour. Does he walk out early in part to let his peers know that it was a bloody easy exam and that they should be doing better than they already are? And does this in part put pressure on the other studs to “preserve their reputations” in some manner by also finishing early? And does this imply that they might hurry up and not do a good enough job of the exam, leading to suboptimal performance and better grades (let’s assume a relative grading system) for the person who originally walked out?

Or do you think walkouts are independent? That two students walking out i close succession to each other were independent events that I’m reading into too much? I wish I had actually tabulated the timings at which papers had been handed in, and maybe perhaps correlated them with the actual performance in an exam (to analyse how early finishing affects performance). As it stands, though,I should work on the data available.

I’m writing this blog post siting in room 1 (posting later since Wi-Fi has been switched off here for purpose of the exam). After I started writing, one of the studs sitting in room 1 walked out. Almost in quick succession one other stud in this room followed him. This is the room where one guy had walked out really early, and he’s also one of the studs of the class.

This suggests that there is some kind of correlation. A sort of relationship. That one person walking out puts pressure on others to also walk out. And can result in some good “relative grading”!

I’ll end with an anecdote from my days as a student here, almost exactly 9 years back. It was an objective final exam, with multiple choice questions only. And in that series of exams it had been some sort of a competition as to who would walk out early.

So it was the last exam, and this one guy decided to “show off” by walking out within five minutes. Unfortunately one other guy had decided to turn up late for the exam. The institute rules state that nobody is allowed into an exam after at least one student has walked out. So the second guy was not allowed to take the exam.

As it turned out, he got a better grade than the guy who had walked out within five minutes!

4 thoughts on “The Peer Pressure of Finishing An Exam Early”

  1. Maybe this RG worked on the other “studs” to leave early but not on the usual junta…in case I saw a “stud” walk out early (and yes, to me it meant he must have cracked it) I just hunkered down and wrote till the last minute coz usually I could see I wasn’t totally cracking it, so needed the marks per attempt at each question 😛 What would have worried me more is seeing a lot of the regular junta also walking out early and me still figuring out wth the paper was about!

    1. So what happened yesterday was that a couple of studs walked out first, and then a few “regular junta” followed. I think this led to the exodus from one room. In the other room, it was only one stud who had walked out, which probably kept everyone in their seats.

      (definition of studs here based on CP)

  2. As long as the walkouts are studs, I think they are independent events. If they’re looking around in an exam to see who’s left and letting that influence their actions, they’re unlikely to be studs (or fighters for that matter).

    Exams are maybe too serious a setting to be bothered with peer pressure. I agree with the snowball effect of walkouts but I don’t think its peer pressure so much as positive reinforcement. For example, if the exam was too easy, I remember feeling unsure (“it can’t be this easy”) and sticking around to check /re check / fret around etc. Once I saw junta leaving , I felt stupid sticking around even though I was done – so I walked out anyway. If I had finished early and other junta were still putting fight, there’s the reverse effect of “surely I’ve missed something and I need to check” – that would count as pressure 🙂

    Also, what are the chances the guys who walked out all belonged to the same project group and had solved similar problems before – and found the exam that much easier?

    1. i think studs consider themselves to have a reputation. and walking out early is one way to in some sense preserve their reputations! Or maybe I’m generalising from myself!

      And i agree with your theory on social validation of it having been an easy/tough paper.

      And I shuffle project groups in my course so your last point doesn’t hold

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