Researcher finds students’ test scores suffer with cell phone use in class

College students should think twice before they text or read a Facebook post in class. Their test scores suffer when they do that, says a Longwood researcher.

Every time students use their cell phones in class it potentially affects their test grades, found Dr. Chris Bjornsen, who studied the relationship between in-class cell phone use and academic performance in all of his classes during an entire academic year. The study revealed that a one point difference in the average number of times a student uses a cell phone during class was associated with an average decrease of six-tenths of a point, out of a score of 100, on the next test.

“Cell phone use in class is significantly and negatively related to grades, and it is significant regardless of grade-point average,” said Bjornsen, a psychology professor, who suspended his prohibition on cell phone use to conduct the study. As cell phone use in class goes up, test scores go down. Just as higher cell phone use predicts lower test scores, lower cell phone use also predicts higher scores.”

The study tracked the in-class cell phone use of 218 students in the six courses Bjornsen taught in 2013-14. At the end of each class period, each student filled out a brief questionnaire about how frequently, and for what purpose, he or she used a cell phone in class. Bjornsen ended up with 4,735 completed surveys.

“My assumption before conducting the study was that cell phone use in class was negatively related to their learning,” he said, “but I didn’t have actual data to support that assumption. Now I have 4,735 records of evidence.”

The study found significantly lower test scores for those who used their cell phone for social media (“read or send email, text message, Facebook, Twitter”)—which was “overwhelmingly” the most frequent use, said Bjornsen— and for playing games, which is far less frequent. Internet use and “organization” tasks like checking one’s calendar did