Test length and cognitive fatigue: an empirical examination of effects on performance and test-taker reactions

J Exp Psychol Appl. 2009 Jun;15(2):163-81. doi: 10.1037/a0015719.


Person and situational determinants of cognitive ability test performance and subjective reactions were examined in the context of tests with different time-on-task requirements. Two hundred thirty-nine first-year university students participated in a within-participant experiment, with completely counterbalanced treatment conditions and test forms. Participants completed three test sessions of different length: (a) a standard-length SAT test battery (total time 4(1/2) hr), (b) a shorter SAT test battery (total time 3(1/2) hr), and (c) a longer SAT test battery (total time 5(1/2) hr). Consistent with expectations, subjective fatigue increased with increasing time-on-task. However, mean performance increased in the longer test length conditions, compared with the shorter test length condition. Individual differences in personality/interest/motivation trait complexes were found to have greater power than the test-length situations for predicting subjective cognitive fatigue before, during, and at the end of each test session. The relative contributions of traits and time-on-task for cognitive fatigue are discussed, along with implications for research and practice. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Aptitude Tests*
  • Attitude*
  • Character
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology*
  • Motivation
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Time Perception*
  • Young Adult