Where Should I Sit?

Can you predict the grades you receive in a class purely from where you sit in that class? Each day every student makes a decision as he or she enters the classroom on where they will sit for the duration of the class. Personally, I like to sit farther back because I do not like the Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 9.02.55 PMpressure that a front seat could cause. I don’t think that my seat placement affects me or my grades in any way, however I wonder if on average students perform higher when they sit closer to the front of the classroom. Even though the decision of seat placement to most students is a subconscious choice, can it actually result in the academic success or failure of the student?

Students that sit in the front and middle of a lecture hall are often considered the highest achieving students. According to a scholarly article (Giles, 1982) there is a relationship between the distance from the front of a classroom and grades in that class. The study says that when students sit closer to the front they perform better on average than students that
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.07.06 PMchose to sit in the back. Giles had the professor assign students to their seats randomly and still students sitting in the front and middle had learning advantages and ultimately better grades. It is important to randomly assign seats in a study that focuses on grades because often more focused and determined students will consciously chose to sit in the front rows of the class causing a confounding variable to affect the result of the study.

Another study done by Steven Kalinski and Mark L. Taper used a single blind randomized trial in order to test the hypothesis of seat placement and grades. Contrary to the first article I presented this study actually found that there was no affect of seat placement on grades. The researchers concluded that confounding variables like size of the lecture hall and number of students in the class are both possible causes of grade variability based on seat placement. The actual results showed a negligible affect because the correlation was not strong enough to support the hypothesis. While many people will say that sitting closest to the professor will improve your grade, according to this study, that is not a legitimate theory.

An important problem with analyzing if seat placement affects grades is that there may be reverse causality. Chris Hakala, a psychology professor and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Western New England University, makes the important statement that, “its not clear if they sit upfront because they’re good students or if good students just prefer to sit up front.” Reverse causality could lead to a mistake in the conclusion of the hypothesis. Also reverse causality illustrates that correlation does not always mean causation, and it is Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 9.06.13 PMincorrect to assume causation in this particular case.

Many different variables affect the decision every student faces when entering a classroom. Each of these variables can be attributed with causing a difference of grades. As a result there are too many confounding variables in the study to truly see if there is any connection between seat placement and grades. Personally from reading the many studies and articles on this topic I concluded that as long as a student is comfortable and focused where they sit there is an equal opportunity to achieve an A in any seat.

7 thoughts on “Where Should I Sit?

  1. Claire E Going

    Personally, I like to sit in the front of the classroom because it makes the giant lecture hall of 111 Forum to feel like a 25 person classroom, which I like. I usually sit in the first or second row, so there is less of a chance of someone in front of me distracting me with their phone. I tend to pay more attention when sitting in front rather than sitting in the middle or back because I feel more engaged and more involved in the lecture. I also have bad eyesight, and I don’t usually need to use my glasses when sitting in front and I am able to see better. I know that sitting near the front improves my grades, and keeps me off of my cell phone, while when I sit in the back, I tend to use my cell phone more frequently and don’t hesitate to check text messages, therefore my grade drops the further towards the back I sit. This is a personal preference, and I know that some good students will be good students regardless of sitting in the front row or the back row. Similarly, some bad students will still get poor grades if they sit in the front row, but I tend to believe that if you stick a non-listener that always sits in the back in the front, they will retain more of the class lecture than normal. I believe that where you sit in the classroom does have an impact on your grade and how much you learn, but there are also confounding variables such as noise level and talking of classmates, and if you use your phone or not. I found this article that explains that there is a correlation between good grades and students that sit towards the front, but they are not sure if it is casual or reverse causality. They also found that “a larger fraction of students who started the semester in front showed improved beliefs compared to those who started the semester in the back.” Great post!
    -Claire

  2. Nicholas Sivak

    The thought of how many third variables are present in this kind of question is astonishing. One that I thought of is if the teacher’s active motion around the learning space affects student learning in anyway. I have classes where the teacher stays at the front of the class stationary, and then we have Andrew who constantly paces back and forth and goes up and down the rows. I found a page about what makes an effective teacher, and mobility is absent from that list. In the circumstances of Andrew’s class, I wonder if the grades of the students are increased or decreased by his disbursement throughout the classroom?

  3. Sarah Jo Sokoloski

    This blog post was extremely interesting and well thought out. I personally try to sit up front as often as possible because I know my own personal attention span and the way I learn, and in knowing that, I pay attention better up front. But similar to what you noted, there are numerous confounding variables that could effect grades regardless of location in the classroom. One thing that would be interesting to further this blog post would be how the halo effect impacts grades in relation to where people sit. Also, another possible expansion would be how the area around people effect them, for example, you could sit in the back around people that don’t talk, or in the front around people that talk a lot. Something I found that I thought was interesting that I found online was this article. The article included data that had two hypothesis and essentially said that there is a lack of significant results, meaning that direct causation cannot be proved yet.

  4. Sarah Elizabeth Pettoruto

    This was a really interesting topic! I find it cool that there were some studies done by professors on this. I agree that there could be some third variables involved, though. For example, some people that sit in that back may already be good students but do not need to sit front row to pay attention. I like how you related it to the vocabulary and topics that we learned in class. Also the reverse causality statement really makes you think, because it could go either way. You may already be a good student meaning you would get an A if you sat in the front or the back. Or sitting up front is the only way they are a good student.

  5. Alyssa Hope Cooper

    I found this article very interesting. I am someone who prefers to sit in the middle or back of the classroom. I prefer this over the front seats because I hate getting picked on in class and having the attention all on me. So by sitting in the back, it reduces my chances of getting called on. However, I do not think that it affects my grades. I would still consider myself a “good student” even though I do not sit in the front of the classroom. I do agree with your last sentence and how it doesn’t matter where one sits. Doing well in class is not based on where you sit, it is based on how motivated you are to doing well.

  6. Patrick Hryckiewicz

    I found this article very interesting and relevant. I think that most people believe that sitting in the front means you’ll do better in the class because there are less distractions when sitting in the front. People sitting in the back or middle are more likely to deal with distractions, such as people using their laptops or texting. Also, people are more likely to talk if they aren’t directly in front of the professor, and talking can distract the people around them. I also agree with your statement about reverse causality. Most, but not all, students who want to succeed try to sit in the front. I’ve also noticed that most of the kids who sit in the front are always asking and answering questions. This article states that other factors can effect where a student sits, such as “Where their friends are sitting, how good their eyesight is, if they were late to class and the front happens to be all that’s available.”

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