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Would adding a countdown timer for 2 minutes to answer a small number of questions (let's say 5 to 10 questions) add too much stress to the user?

I'm thinking about users that aren't the best at taking exams or worried about the timer running out so they rush through the questions and make possible mistakes?

Our scenario is:

We give the user a warning 2 minutes before they start the questionnaire.

Once they hit next, the questionnaire starts (5 questions to make sure it's the person they say they are).

Our older system had a countdown timer that counted down and flashed. I was under the impression that this is a negative user experience and caused the user to rush and fail more often.

I'd like to implement an easier/less stressful timer/countdown for the user.

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  • Can you please edit your question to include the use case you're working on? "Fun trivia game" and "public school test question" would have different implications for answers.
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 15:09
  • Updated for clarifcation/scenario. Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 15:52
  • Thanks. It sounds like you're verifying the user's identity rather than testing the user's knowledge, is that correct?
    – Izquierdo
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 15:55
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    We are verifying the identity based on the users knowledge of questions provided IE: Have you lived at any of these addresses: 1. 123 Street 2. 404 Road 3. 555 Main St. Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 15:59
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    That sounds like a quite unusual system to verify one's identity. I could easily pass as most of my friends, and I have another friend who would certainly fail to prove he's himself.
    – Johannes
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 10:35

2 Answers 2

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In Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the author's thesis is that people have two ways of forming thoughts (from Wikipedia):

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, unconscious. Examples (in order of complexity) of things system 1 can do:

  • determine that an object is at a greater distance than another
  • localize the source of a specific sound
  • complete the phrase "war and ..."
  • display disgust when seeing a gruesome image
  • solve 2+2=?
  • read text on a billboard drive a car on an empty road
  • think of a good chess
  • move (if you're a chess master)
  • understand simple sentences
  • associate the description 'quiet and structured person with an eye for details' with a specific job

System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious. Examples of things system 2 can do:

  • prepare yourself for the start of a sprint
  • direct your attention towards the clowns at the circus
  • direct your attention towards someone at a loud party
  • look for the woman with the grey hair
  • try to recognize a sound
  • sustain a faster than normal walking rate
  • determine the appropriateness of a particular behavior in a social setting
  • count the number of A's in a certain text
  • give someone your telephone number
  • park into a tight parking space
  • determine the price/quality ratio of two washing machines
  • determine the validity of a complex logical reasoning
  • solve 17 × 24

It would seem that answering identity questions is "system 1" thinking for the intended user (who can unconsciously pick a street they lived on from a list) and "system 2" thinking for a bad actor (who would have to think hard about such details.)

A timer would likely not be a big issue with system 1 thinking, and it would deter users who have to depend on system 2 thinking.

The caveat is that this pattern might be difficult for users with certain cognitive or visual disabilities. What looks like a quick multiple-choice question to a user without disabilities is experienced differently by one with disabilities, who might successfully complete tasks with copious or unlimited time. They most definitely would have a bad experience if they are not afforded enough time and the system rejects them.

Thus, while this can be speedy and efficient for many users, you probably wouldn't want this to be the only way that users can validate their identity. You could offer a secondary option such as a phone call for those who prefer an alternative.

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Your tests will be easier if they are based on recognition not recall ( its a finding which is as old as the hills ). Brains are pattern matching devices.

Putting people under stress by providing a timer will depend on the match between time and the number of tasks: basically performance improves with a small amount of stress but as the stress builds performance starts to deteriorate.

Again this is fairly common sense ( you've probably experienced it ). However its covered by the Yerkes - Dodson curve:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerkes%E2%80%93Dodson_law

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