Submitting essays: The jeopardy of just in time

essays“HARD work might pay off after time,” says the adage, “but procrastination will always pay off right now.” While inherently plausible, it would be unwise to adopt this advice as a lifestyle guide. The possible consequences of such a strategy have been spelt out in a paper just released by the University of Warwick in Britain.

David Arnott, a professor at the university’s business school, says he long believed that late submissions were reflected in lower grades. With a colleague, he devised a study looking at 777 undergraduate marketing students over a five-year period. It tracked the submission of online essays for end-of-term assignments for two modules: one from the first-year, the other the third-year (no students were included in both groups).

The pair were concerned that students’ study habits, particularly a tendency towards procrastination, could have a detrimental impact on their grades. This would mean that tests were, in effect, not only a measure of their marketing knowledge, but also of their propensity to put things off. If true, simple interventions like varying the nature of submissions or simply warning students of the perils of procrastination could raise grades.

Unsurprisingly, but no less worrying for that, the data bore out these expectations. Results of submission time were collated in 18 time categories from “up to the last 24 hours” down to “the last minute” (see chart, taken directly from the study, below). Early submitters fared best. Those who handed in their work at least a day ahead of the deadline could expect a mean mark of around 64% (it didn’t make much difference if students submitted essays even earlier than that). Those who waited until the very last minute, however, saw their mean mark fall to 59%—which took them to a lower grade.

There are various theories why students may procrastinate, from task aversion (commonly seen as laziness) to a fear of failure (sometimes expressed as perfectionism). Mr Arnott discounts the search for perfection, instead believing simply that “those that are well organised and buckle down submit early”. Until wider studies are conducted looking at different courses, for example, it is not possible to say for sure how debilitating procrastination actually is. Reason, perhaps, to put off worrying about what to do about it.

This article was published in The Economist on 11th September 2014.  See this link.

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