Can You Raise Test Scores in 12 Minutes?


(Yes, if you know how)

In a recent study, the mean reading comprehension score of low-income adolescents who engaged in 12 minutes of (doing what?) was higher than the mean reading comprehension score of low-income adolescents in the control group. Not a little bit higher, but MUCH higher!

The most amazing part of this intervention was that it was easily replicated, verifiable and very low cost. What was it?

The Research

I’ll tell you the nearly FREE intervention in a moment. First, Michele Tine is the head of the Poverty and Learning Lab, within the Education Department at Dartmouth College. She has been committed to finding solutions for students from poverty which are easily used and low cost.

In case you’re still wondering, all she did was ask students to run in place for 12 minutes. Yes, that’s it!

Now, the title of her study was, “Acute aerobic exercise: an intervention for the selective visual attention and reading comprehension of low-income adolescents.”

Her original study had tested children, and the results were dramatic. This was the first study done with adolescents.

Her results showed that 12-minutes of aerobic exercise improved the selective visual attention for reading skills of BOTH low- and high-income adolescents. Plus, the benefit lasted for 45-minutes!

The results were dramatic, with an effect size of almost 0.83 (over a year and a half worth of gains). The improvement among low-income adolescents was substantial enough to close the income gap in SVA, which is a novel finding and makes acute aerobic exercise a particularly compelling intervention for low-income adolescents.

Even the most basic models of reading comprehension show that multiple cognitive processes are used, including selective visual attention, decoding, metacognition, and phonemic awareness, just to name a few.

Part of the study write-up suggested that stress regulation was a key. While both low and upper income students were part of the study, all the subjects also took a post-test survey to determine the number and degree of life stressors. The low-income students, as would be predicted, did have much greater stress. The 12 minutes of jogging may have erased (or reduced) some of the effects of chronic stress.

This is one reason to know the science of learning. This simple intervention is low cost (how does “free” sound)?

So the interdisciplinary promotion of physical activity as a “brain-compatible” activity is well founded. Again, we see the brain involved in everything we do at school.

Now, how can you use this in your class?

Classroom Applications

Many think all the science is too hard to implement in your classroom. Well, some studies ARE hard to implement. This one is different.

Here’s a simple intervention that you can do right away.

For this activity, use heart monitors (if you have them). If not, show students how to get their own heart rate by using their fingertips on their wrist and counting the beats for one minute. Once they have a baseline, give the students their individual target heart rate of about 50% higher.

In the study above, students jogged in place for 12-minutes at a speed that kept up the heart rate within each of their individual target heart rate ranges (I would suggest a range of 5-10% above and below the identified target rate).

This can be done right before any testing, and it lasts for 45 minutes (woo-hoo).

Those are the kinds of connections and interventions that should be made. This is not random or careless; there’s little downside risk, and much to gain.

Thus a brain-based perspective strengthens the case for maintaining or enhancing physical activities in school. This one is so powerful because you can use it right before any type of testing that involves reading, and it costs nothing.

So, make your plans for a nice increase in test scores on reading.

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

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