Small Changes Make a Big Difference: How Behavioral Science Improved Participation in Advanced Placement (Issue Brief)

Publisher: Oakland, CA: Mathematica Policy Research
Sep 25, 2017
Naihobe Gonzalez

Key Findings:

  • Students who received a personalized message about their potential to succeed in AP coursework—and who were surveyed for this study—were 49 percentage points more likely to participate in AP classes than peers who did not receive the message.
  • These students were more likely to take an AP exam and passed a higher number, making them eligible for college credit.
  • Personalized messages can be a cost-effective way to encourage students, but might only work when combined with an effort to call attention to the messages.  

Behavioral science researchers have shown that making small changes in the way information is presented can have a large impact on a person’s decision to participate in a program. This issue brief examines how one such change—a personalized message added to a test score report—increased student participation in the AP.