The Effect of Seat Location on Exam Grades and Student Perceptions in an Introductory Biology Class

By Kalinowski, Steven; Taper, Mark L. | Journal of College Science Teaching, January-February 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Effect of Seat Location on Exam Grades and Student Perceptions in an Introductory Biology Class

Kalinowski, Steven, Taper, Mark L., Journal of College Science Teaching

Byline: Steven Kalinowski and Mark L. Taper

An experiment shows that sitting in the back of a lecture hall rather than the front does not have a detrimental effect on student performance on exams.

The effect of seat location on learning has received surprisingly little attention in education literature (Weinstein 1979). Classroom experience and education literature suggest that students who sit in the front of a lecture hall are more likely to get As than students in the back (Benedict and Hoag 2004; Holliman and Anderson 1986; Pedersen 1994). The explanation may seem obvious-front-row students get better grades because they are better students. Perkins and Wieman (2005) recently challenged this dogma by showing that students sitting in the front rows of a high-enrollment introductory physics class (Physics 1010, Physics of Everyday Life) received better grades than students in the back-even though seats were randomly assigned at the beginning of the course. This suggests that conventional wisdom has ignored an alternative explanation for why grades decrease toward the back. Sitting in the back may be a disadvantage. Perkins and Wieman did not identify why sitting in the front led to better grades, but they did show that students assigned to sit in the back also had poorer attendance during the course and poorer attitudes regarding physics than students in the front.

The results of Perkins and Wieman (2005) are troubling because there are at least three reasons to expect their back-row students to do well. First, Wieman is one of America's most distinguished teachers (e.g., he won a 2001 National Science Foundation Director Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars), and his class is popular enough to require a waiting list. Second, Wieman and Perkins used active-learning exercises to engage all of their students (Ebert-May and Brewer 1997; Handelsman et al. 2004). Third, Perkins and Wieman reassigned seats halfway through the semester, so that students initially sitting in the front were moved to the back and vice versa. This switch did not compensate for the effects of the first half of the semester; students that sat in the back during the first half of the semester did poorly in the second half of the semester, even though they had been moved toward the front.

We present results from an experiment that tested the effect of seat location on student performance and attitudes in an undergraduate biology class. Like Perkins and Wieman (2005), we randomly assigned seat locations on the first day of class. However, unlike Perkins and Wieman, we did not find that students sitting in the front did any better than students sitting in the back.


We conducted our experiment with students enrolled in Biology 215, Introductory Biology: Individuals to Populations at Montana State University. Biology 215 is a sophomore-level course on ecology and evolution for biology majors. Of 45 students enrolled in the class, 43 finished the semester. All students were majoring in biology and the great majority identified themselves as preparing for medical school. In addition to teaching the basic concepts of ecology and evolution, Biology 215 emphasized four general scientific-thinking skills: quantitative reasoning, argument analysis, experimental design, and evidence evaluation. The class met three times per week for a 50-minute lecture and had a laboratory that met once a week for two and a half hours. Lectures were designed as inquiries seeking to answer a question (e.g., "How old is the earth?"). We used PowerPoint slides during lectures. PowerPoint presentations can encourage students to remain passive; we attempted to avoid this problem by encouraging active learning (Doumont 2005; Tufte 2006). Some of each class period was used for small-group discussions and Socratic dialogue, and students were frequently called on at random during these discussions.

We taught Biology 215 in a modest-sized lecture hall.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Effect of Seat Location on Exam Grades and Student Perceptions in an Introductory Biology Class


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?