Attention Drifting Away While Test-Taking: Mind-Wandering in Students with Low- and High-Performance Levels in TIMSS-Like Science Tests

Sulaiman M. Al-Balushi*, Ibrahim S. Al-Harthy, Rashid S. Almehrizi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


When individuals’ attention shifts away from the primary tasks they are involved in, their minds start to wander. This mental phenomenon, also known as mind-wandering, can interact with other variables and affect the performance of academic tasks. The current study focuses particularly on the mind-wandering (MW) of Omani students while they were taking TIMSS-like science tests and examines the results in relation to their performance levels in the test, their grade level (i.e. age), and the cognitive level of the test items. The participants were 776 Omani students, 342 in Grade 5 and 434 in Grade 9. The tests used were designed to resemble actual TIMSS science tests and are therefore referred to as TIMSS-like science tests. Student MW was measured by the embedding of self-report probes at four points in the tests; the use of self-report probes has been widely adopted in previous research studies. The current researchers designed a mobile application to host the tests; the app was installed on tablets which participants used to take the test. Results indicated that low-scoring learners in both grade levels had significantly higher MW than high-achieving learners, and that this was true when they were doing both lower-order and higher-order test questions. However, there was a difference in the patterns of MW between students in the two different grades. For Grade 5 students, the difference in MW between low and high scorers followed a similar pattern at all stages of the test, while this was not the case with Grade 9 test-takers. There were significant differences in the repeated measures of MW of both low and high performers in Grade 9, while the repeated measures of MW interacted significantly with the levels (low and high) of performance on the lower-level questions in Grade 5 only. No other interaction was detected. The findings of this study have shed light on the importance of taking into consideration students’ MW while they are taking tests, but further research is needed to explore potential methods to keep their attention focused on the test.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-416
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Attention shifting
  • Mind-wandering
  • Science
  • Test-taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Mathematics(all)


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