Exams are likely to cause stress and require significant resilience at some point during the course of young people’s lives. During school, it is often the first time young people experience being evaluated on their performance. Exams and their subsequent grades can significantly contribute to stress levels, self-perception and have lasting impacts on self-efficacy.
There has been significant research regarding final school exams, showing the impact of high-stakes examinations on students’ mental health. Studies have also interrogated whether their use as a performance measure should be reduced. Research has shown that anxiety and stress increases for teenagers during their final years of schooling. This is accompanied by a decrease in self-efficacy.
Exams are something we all have to encounter during our lives. In an age where pressure is rising and mental illness is increasing, it is important to find ways to minimise the negative impacts of exam stress and anxiety.
Students’ peer relationships are correlated with lower levels of test anxiety. It is important to maintain friendships, even when it feels students are too busy to socialise or think about anything other than their studies. These friendships serve them well, as lower levels of test anxiety are linked to higher academic achievement.
Parents also have the power to mitigate or exacerbate feelings of stress. For example, nagging or continually reminding your child about the magnitude of exam results increases anxiety. This is crucial to remember, as there may be a misconception that children need to be reminded of this in order for them to realise the importance of their exams and perform accordingly. However, it could be counter intuitive considering anxiety is linked to lower performance. Similarly, using fear in attempt to motivate a student does not help either, and is in fact linked to lower motivation.
How can we help?
Reassuringly, there is a lot that can be implemented at home by parents to counter a child’s exam stress and build resilience. Research has shown resilience in the face of academic adversity is linked to not only minimised stress, but also better performance. As a result, if a student is reminded that there are several opportunities throughout their school year to showcase their academic potential, this will reduce anxiety. It will also allow them to best prepare themselves for future assessments. Teachers and parents play crucial roles and have a level of responsibility regarding a student’s academic experience, as they can help shape whether it is a positive experience.
Instilling feelings of positivity and resilience in students is important, as opposed to using fear as motivation. Building confidence will minimise stress and has shown to prevent stress and anxiety. Assessments and exams are first encountered during school, but we will come across daunting experiences throughout our lives. Whether job performance reviews, interviews, presentations, being judged externally is unavoidable. It is important we help students establish healthier thinking habits. These habits will help them to better handle the stress and occasional disappointments that can come from exams and the challenges we all face in life.
- Putwain, D., Daly, A., Chamberlain, S. and Sadreddini, S. (2015). “‘Sink or swim’: buoyancy and coping in the cognitive test anxiety – academic performance relationship”. Educational Psychology, 36(10), pp.1807-1825.
- Ringeisen, T. and Raufelder, D. (2015). The interplay of parental support, parental pressure and test anxiety – Gender differences in adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 45, pp.67-79.
By Vanessa Azzi
Vanessa is a psychology graduate, currently completing an honours year exploring occupational stress within the healthcare sector.