In the News

Psychology In The News | Do Ceilings Affect Exam Performance?

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

10th July 2024

Recent research conducted in Australia has uncovered a surprising connection between room architecture and academic performance. The study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, reveals that students tend to score lower on exams when seated in rooms with high ceilings.

Led by Dr Isabella Bower, an expert in both architecture and psychology, the research team analysed data from over 15,000 undergraduate students across nine years. They compared exam results with the ceiling heights of examination rooms, considering various factors such as students' prior performance, age, gender, and exam timing.

The findings consistently showed that students underperformed in rooms with elevated ceilings compared to their expected results based on coursework. While the exact cause remains unclear, Dr Bower suggests it could be related to the room's scale, student density, or environmental factors like temperature and air quality, which can influence cognitive function.

This study builds upon Dr Bower's previous virtual reality experiments, where brain activity was measured in participants exposed to different room sizes. Using electroencephalography (EEG), the team found that larger spaces triggered brain activity associated with difficult task concentration, prompting questions about performance in such environments.

The implications of these findings are significant, considering the widespread use of large, high-ceiling spaces for examinations in educational institutions. This research recognises how physical environments can impact student performance and this is particularly important, given the critical role of exams in shaping educational and career paths.

This research illustrates the need for a more thoughtful approach to designing educational spaces. It suggests that the common practice of using expansive areas like gymnasiums for exams may inadvertently disadvantage students.


  1. This research was conducted in Australia. Why might this represent a challenge for generalising the findings to other cultures?
  2. Thinking about the sample, what strengths does this study have?
  3. A link was found between high ceilings and poor academic performance. Why can psychologists not conclude that high ceilings cause poor academic performance?
  4. How did the psychologists try to control for individual differences in this study. Why is this important to do in psychological research?
  5. Discuss the ethical implications of these findings for educational institutions. How might schools and universities respond to this research?


University of South Australia. "High ceilings linked to poorer exam results for university students." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2024. (accessed 9.7.24)

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Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

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