Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance

Arnold L. Glass, Mengxue Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


The intrusion of internet-enabled electronic devices (laptop, tablet, and cell phone) has transformed the modern college lecture into a divided attention task. This study measured the effect of using an electronic device for a non-academic purpose during class on subsequent exam performance. In a two-section college course, electronic devices were permitted in half the lectures, so the effect of the devices was assessed in a within-student, within-item counterbalanced experimental design. Dividing attention between an electronic device and the classroom lecture did not reduce comprehension of the lecture, as measured by within-class quiz questions. Instead, divided attention reduced long-term retention of the classroom lecture, which impaired subsequent unit exam and final exam performance. Students self-reported whether they had used an electronic device in each class. Exam performance was significantly worse than the no-device control condition both for students who did and did not use electronic devices during that class.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-408
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 16 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Divided attention
  • exam performance
  • instruction
  • long-term retention
  • social distraction

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