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GCSE Students of England – Focus!!

Simon Burgess

The next few weeks might be a horrible time of year if you are 15 or 16. There are some big decisions coming up. One the one hand: the final exams for the GCSE courses, completing two years of work leading up to this moment.  There is a lot of studying still to do, notes to be read, exercises to be worked through, understanding to be really nailed down. Final revision.

But on the other hand: the World Cup. In Brazil. England qualified, and while no-one thinks of England as favourites … who knows? Who would want to miss watching Gerrard and the team confounding the pundits and cruising into the semis?

What to do? This is a classic question of time preference: jam today (watching the game) versus jam tomorrow (getting the grades and higher lifetime income). What is the trade-off between grades and goals?

Our research < https://cmpo.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/a-report-of-two-halves/ > can help. We have studied < http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/publications/papers/2011/wp276.pdf > the decisions of about 3.5m students facing this dilemma in previous summers. We compared the GCSE performance of as-good-as-identical students in years with World Cups (or the European Championship) and years with no exam-time distractions.

On average, grades were slightly lower in World Cup years. We interpreted this as some students taking some time out from studying to keep an eye on the tournament. While there are other possible explanations, our statistical techniques rule out more or less everything else.

That’s on average. Some groups of students saw sizeable declines in their grades. Again, the interpretation of this has to be that they prioritised the tournament and seriously cut down on study time.

How much does this matter? It depends on how close to the key borderline the student’s performance is likely to be.  Achieving at least 5 good passes (C grade and above) including English and maths is widely regarded as a necessary minimum for further education or getting a good job. For students who are near this borderline, a grade or so either way matters a lot.

Missing out on 5 good GCSE grades can be very costly. Estimates suggest an average total lifetime cost of around £30,000. This seems a very hefty price to pay for watching some football.

The moral of all this research and numbers: if you are likely to be close to the 5 Cs borderline, stick with the studies, let others suffer the pain of watching England, and get the grades. In the future, you will have earned the money – and the right – to sit back and fully enjoy World Cups.

 

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