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Studying sauced: Big fun, won’t hurt your grade — no, really

Been staying sober recently, in preparation for finals? You don’t need to, according to SCIENCE:

Students and alcohol are never far apart, but most manage to hold off the booze when they’ve got an important test the next morning. Now it seems they needn’t worry, as researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health have found that combining last-minute revision with a couple of beers isn’t a problem. Heavy drinking the night before an exam had little effect on a student’s academic performance, but they did have worse moods and slower reflexes. (Emphasis mine)

As long as a student manages to wake up for your exam and stumble to the correct classroom, the fact that he accompanied his studying with a shot for every chapter of the textbook he didn’t read does not appear to have a significant affect on your final grade:

The researchers recruited 196 student for the study, and randomly assigned them to either a strong beer or a non-alcoholic placebo beer. The students spent the evening drinking in a controlled environment before retiring for the night, and then in the morning were subjected to both academic and mental performance tests. One week later they did it all over again, but with the opposite beverage.


Unsurprisingly, 70% of students assigned to the alcoholic beer complained of a hangover the next morning. This didn’t seem to affect their exam performance however, as regardless of beverage all students scored relatively high on a mock exam and a quiz on a lecture from the previous day. Despite this, students rated their own test performance as worse if they were hungover.

So even though it may feel like you performed worse on a test if you feel like you got hit over the hear with a bottle of Everclear and can’t remember if that really did happen, drinking the night before a test won’t — according to this study — detrimentally affect a test grade. The authors of this study provide interesting analysis of the study results:

These findings contradict previous research showing links between alcohol consumption and academic problems. The researchers suggest that a third factor such as personality could be the cause of both – perhaps some failing students are driven to drink.

These sober scolds might not be teetotally right on that. While the prospect of a 35-page paper in one night might be enough to, as they say, drive one to drink, the broader allegation that students with academic problems drink more inspires some skepticism.

Other recent studies in both the UK and the US have shown otherwise, a fact the UA Administration exploits rather impressively: according to Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa in Psychology Today, “It appears to be their intelligence itself, rather than correlates of intelligence, that inclines them to drink more.” As my colleague also noted, instances of binge drinking at elite colleges like Yale, Harvard, and Stanford have not only failed to decrease, but have increased in recent years. Though the relation between intelligence and test scores are far from direct, studies like these are providing convincing evidence that (gasp!) one can be smart and drink often — and that one might drink often because he or she is smart.

In sum: Just over two more days of finals, science sez let’s get drunk.

Anna Swenson blogs at the Arizona Desert Lamp.

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