So this week I’m going to extend on last weeks topic and discuss the amount of stress exams can cause, a brief insight into whether the room we are in can influence this stress and whether in the long run, exams are really that necessary. As a brief personal insight, I really struggle with the process of exams, I can’t deal with the environment they are taken in or the amount of stress the build up can cause. I spend a lot of my time in the exam trying to focus on getting through the whole experience and not concentrating on what the exam is asking from me; in turn this has lead to some poor exam results.
From the moment we enter the education system, test are sprung on us continuously. Sarason et al (1960) state that ‘we live in a test-conscious, test-giving culture in which the lives of people are in part determined by their test performance’. This is a statement I whole-heartedly agree with, our exam results influence our futures; fail our SATS…don’t get into a good high school, fail our GCSE’s… not allowed to study A levels, fail A levels… don’t get into university, fail university…struggle to get a job. Obviously my previous sentence can be disputed somewhat, but in general it is correct; exam results influence a lot, the pressure that these exams can therefore put on us is immense.
Before I go fully into the research that has been conducted into exam stress and the influence this has on us, I decided just to briefly define test anxiety and stress. Test anxiety is a construct considered as situation-specific, this meaning that it is a trait accounting for individual differences in the extent to which people find examinations threatening (Spielberger & Vagg, 1995). There are three main components of test anxiety:
Cognitive- the negative thoughts and self-statements that occur during assessments as well as difficulties that may arise in the exam (struggling to read the questions).
Affective- physiological state (feeling unwell, sweating and shaking)
Behavioural- Revision techniques and procrastination
Research into exam stress is extensive, however, one study I found particularly interesting and one, which could explain why we become ill when stressed was one conducted by Cohen et al (2000), their research involved medical students during and after exam time, they measured DRC (DNA repair capacity) and how stress influenced this level. Participants completed questionnaires and also had blood taken at two intervals, one during exam time and one after. Results showed that DRC was significantly lower during exam time that once the period had ended. This shows that when the body is stressed, the immune system becomes weaker making us more susceptible to illnesses (could explain why I’m always ill!)
Research conducted at the Virginia Tech Institute in USA states that group settings can reduce intellectual ability. The paper focuses on the IQ of females during settings such as cocktail parties or classroom settings, however I feel that the results could be extended to the setting of an examination hall. (http://research.vtc.vt.edu/news/2012/jan/22/group-settings-can-diminish-expressions-intellige/)
So the last point I want to focus on during this blog posting, is whether exams are really that necessary? Are they the only thing that can rate our intelligence? Or should students be able to use their creativity, their imagination and their passion for a particular interest to showcase just how intellectual they are? (I will research into this further in future blog posts as well)
It has been stated that exams quash creativity, students revise information and then regurgitate the bits they can remember and hope it is somewhat linked to the ‘magic answer’ the teacher is looking for. However, students are rarely interested in this information, they learn it because they have to, because they know they will be tested on it. Writing about something they are interested in will not gain them the grades they need to progress to the next levels of education. Furger (2002) believes that performance based assessments are a good alternative to traditional methods of testing students and gives them an opportunity to express their knowledge and skills.
If you’ve reached this far down, then well done. Next week I’m going to build on the different types of performance based assessments and the advantages and disadvantages of it. As well as linking back to other forms of assessment and the affect these have on us as students from primary school age up until university level. Questions and comments are always appreciated.
Cohen (2000). Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1005503502992?LI=true
Furger (2002). Retrieved from http://www.Edutopia.org/performance-assessment-math
Spielberger, C.D. & Vagg, R.P. (1995). Test anxiety. Bristol: Taylor & Francis.
Putwain (2008). Retrieved from http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=21&editionID=167&ArticleID=1440