Exams = Stress = Bad. Right?

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Dr Mandie Shean, lecturer in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University, acknowledges that exams are, of course, challenging.

But how students talk about them and how teachers—or even the education system—‘load’ them emotionally, might be teaching students to be afraid rather than encouraging them to see exams as a positive challenge.

Dr Shean describes something we all do every day—we assess situations and ‘load’ them according to our assessment. We look at situations and ask: is this harmful? Is that threatening? Should I run? Is it desirable? Is it no big deal? Will I get involved? We behave according to our appraisal.

In Psychology circles this is called ‘Appraisal Theory’.

Appraisal Theory explores how much our emotional response (eg: anxiety) to an event (eg: an exam) depends on our evaluation or appraisal of it.

And here’s something interesting….

In 2016 US researchers found that students who ‘appraised’ their sweaty palms and increased heart rates as a sign they were fully alert and going to do their best in an exam, did actually do better. Those who interpreted their body reactions as signs they weren’t coping, didn’t perform as well.

Exams may be stressful. But the truth is: many challenges are good for our mental health. They set us up to deal even better with similar—or even more challenging experiences—in the future.

In an analogy, Dr Shean reminds us that avoiding all germs only increases our vulnerability to disease.

Exams are like this. They provide us with ‘steeling events’ that actually help develop our mental and emotional wellbeing.


This article is an adaptation of:
The Conversation: Are we teaching our children to be afraid of exams? By Mandie Shean. 14.5.219

The benefits of stress:

Or check out the article Six easy ways to beat high school exam stress: