Teachers held a contest without prizes to motivate students to learn English words after the final exam of the autumn semester 2019. 342 students (156 female) from grades 5 and 6 participated in this contest, and they were asked to remember 60 English words in 5 days. On the morning of the first day, students received a word list consisting of two parts with 30 words each, and they were informed that they would be examined on the first part and the second part on the morning of the third day and the sixth day, respectively. All English words were selected from the textbook from which students were supposed to learn in the next semester. Hence, students, in principle, were not familiar with these words. Each test consisted of 30 questions of three types (Chinese--English translation, English--Chinese translation, and crossword puzzle). To obtain a high score, students needed to memorise as many English words and their Chinese meanings as possible.
Before the first test, teachers randomly assigned classes in each grade into three groups: an unranked control group and two treatment groups. Teachers gave treated students an individualised note with the rank feedback on the afternoon of the third day, and they were encouraged not to share their ranking with others. By contrast, students in the control group were reminded only that there would be another test 2 days later. The feedback provided to students varied across treatment groups. To examine whether providing rank feedback had positive impacts on performance, as some existing research has claimed, teachers gave two classes of students overall rank feedback. Students in this treatment group learned their relative position among all students in the classroom. Meanwhile, the group rank feedback was provided to four classes of students in another treatment group. Specifically, teachers first ranked students within the class by their scores for the first test and then divided them into groups of five from top to bottom. Hence, the notes given to students presented their rank in a group of five members. However, students had no idea who the other members of the group were, or whether they had similar performance.
On the morning of the first day, a Thursday, teachers gave the first test to their students. On the exam paper were listed 100 incomplete English words, each of which had several letters removed alongside their corresponding Chinese meaning. The students had to correctly complete as many English words as they could. On the afternoon of the following day (Friday), teachers provided students in different treatment groups with their corresponding relative performance feedback. Similar to the operation in Study 1, there was no feedback provided to students in the control group, and students in the treatment groups received either their overall rank or group rank. Then, all students received the answers for the initial test, a word list, and they were informed that there would be a test exactly like the earlier one 3 days later; 365 students (176 female) attended the initial test, but 13 of them were absent from the second test, and hence, we had 352 observations (171 female) in the end.