Ramadan observance during exams has a negative impact on the performance of practising Muslim students

Researchers Kyra Hanemaaijer, Olivier Marie and Marco Musumeci of Erasmus School of Economics conclude that on average, there is a strong and significant negative impact on school performance of Muslim students when the final secondary school exams and Ramadan overlap.

Hanemaaijer, Marie and Musumeci investigated whether the overlap of the high-stakes final exams with Ramadan in the Netherlands affects the performance of practising Muslim students. Their work showed that the exam grades and pass rate of these students dropped significantly, widening the existing achievement gap with non-Muslim peers by 16.4 percent. As a consequence, practising Muslim students were more likely to repeat the final year, go into adult education or to even drop out from school without a diploma.

The negative effects on final exam grades were especially bad for students who were already performing poorly: they were 11 percent less likely to graduate from high school when final exams overlapped with Ramadan. In addition, the researchers found that the negative effects were almost entirely driven by students in the poorest, worst performing and most (religiously) segregated schools. In these schools, the achievement gap between practicing Muslim students and their non-Muslim peers increased by a quarter. 

Finally, the researchers examined whether the effect of Ramadan on exam grades differed by timing of the exams. Afternoon exams were impacted less by Ramadan than morning exams, except if they took place after another exam in the morning. In the latter case, students were especially negatively affected. This is suggestive evidence that those affected by Ramadan could counter the effects of sleep deprivation by taking (long) naps after the early meal (suhoor) when they have no exams in the morning. The researchers proposed some policy implications based on this. They recommend to reschedule the exams (and other moments at which individual performance is measured) in order not to overlap with religious duties, or – if this is not feasible – to at least schedule them optimally to mitigate the impact of Ramadan on performance.

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