Pupils who do not worry about their exams are likely to perform better than those who spend time stressing about them.
New research has identified that the difference between not worrying about tests and stressing too much could be as much as 1.5 GCSE grades.
The study involved 325 pupils from eight secondary schools in the North West of England and was carried out by academics at Edge Hill University and the University of South Australia.
Working with researchers from awarding body AQA, they interviewed the students in the run-up to their final GCSE exams last year. They found that worrying about exams was “significantly correlated” with relatively bad GCSE performance, even when prior ability was taken into account.
The research was presented at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) last week. Dr Dave Putwain of Edge Hill University said: “There is no doubt that test anxiety, or to be more precise a high degree of worry over one’s performance or the consequences of one’s performance, has a detrimental effect on GCSE performance.
“Our study controlled for prior attainment and also how good students were at dealing with exam pressure and found that increased worry still predicted lower achievement.”
A second study investigated whether the anxiety could be reduced, with students piloting a new on-screen self-help programme called STEPS (Strategies to Tackle Exam Pressure and Stress).
STEPS includes videos of former students talking about how they coped, interactive quizzes and games, study skills, and the chance for pupils to practise anxiety-management techniques such as deep breathing and “positive visualisation”.
A total of 267 14 to 16-year-olds completed the anxiety survey before and after taking part in STEPS. Their performance was then compared to a control group of 1,519 pupils – all the students were from 10 schools in the North West.
STEPS did not seemingly help those pupils considered to have low or medium test anxiety, but it did help those with high test anxiety, who reported notable reductions in their levels of stress.
STEPS is still in the pilot stage but the second study concluded: “On the basis of the available evidence, we are optimistic that test anxiety can be reduced using an IT-delivered, self-help programme which does not require costly, specialist input.”
The BERA is a charity which exists to encourage educational research and its application. Visit www.bera.ac.uk