Student exam performance inspired by Queen of Katwe movie

Geoff Riley

3rd April 2018

Watching a movie featuring an inspiring role model made it more likely that Ugandan school students would pass their national exams and get into university. Female students saw the biggest improvements in their test scores

These are among the findings of research by Emma Riley, presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018.

The movie, Queen of Katwe, is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a young woman from the slums of Kampala who, through hard work and studying, gets into a top school so she can play chess.

A group of 1,500 secondary school students in Kampala were randomly allocated to either see Queen of Katwe or a ‘placebo’ movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a children’s adventure story.

Those in lower secondary school who watched Queen of Katwe went from failing their mathematics exam 27% of the time to only failing 16% of the time, a 30% decrease in the probability of failing. 

Among female students and the worst performing students, the effects were even larger, with those who saw Queen of Katwe being 50% less likely to fail mathematics.

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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