Blog synthesis: How the way we are assessed can affect the way we develop

So in this blog I’m attempting to pull together the last four of my blogs, I’ll reiterate some of the research I’ve already included (the ones I’ve found most interesting) and include any new research I’ve found on the areas I’ve been blogging about.

My overall topic was about how the way we are assessed in education can affect us on a psychological and personal level, this being, the amount of stress assessments can put us under. I then expanded this into methods of assessment that may reduce our stress levels, as well as including personal revelations about which methods of assessment I don’t agree with.

Assessment is described as ‘the collection of relevant information that may be relied on for making decisions’ (Fenton, 1966). Davis (2000) defines the idea of assessment as ‘learning that is ongoing and requires deep involvement on the part of the learner in clarifying outcomes, monitoring on-going learning, collecting evidence and presenting evidence of our learning to others’.  Certain types of assessment can lead to a concept called ‘social loafing’, which is when certain members of the group do not contribute to the task fully as they believe other people will do the work for them, but they will still be rewarded equally. Linden et al (2004) found that large group sizes lead to an increase in social loafing. Karau (1993) found that social loafing can also be influenced by culture and task meaningfulness.

Anxiety and stress affect all students during their education experience, however, some people suffer from the effects of stress differently from others. Boivin et al (2009) found that certain assessments lead to social withdrawal in the classroom which can lead to peer rejection and depression as well as affecting the desire to achieve in classroom tasks.

Testing is another form of assessment known to bring on severe amounts of stress and anxiety in young adults. Sarason et al (1960) believed that ‘we live in a test conscious, test-giving culture in which the lives of people are in part determined by their test performance’. The point made is one that is true of the Western education system, failing a test can have a huge impact on the future development and education of the individual, which means the pressure to succeed is immense. Cohen et al (2000) research medical students during and after exam time, measuring DRC (DNA repair capacity). Results showed that DRC was significantly lower during exam time than once the exam period had ended. The immune system becomes weaker during times of stress and anxiety. So for individuals who are prone to suffering from stress, anxiety and depression anyway, exam times become a particularly difficult time.

Performance based assessments are a solution to reducing the stress levels suffered by students. It falls into the category of alternative assessment (Sweet, 1993). It requires students to actively demonstrate what they know not simply recite it onto an exam paper. It can take the form of speeches, projects, blogs, portfolios and essays (Tung, 2010). The advantages of this form of assessment is that is allowed individuals to take responsibility for their own work and persist at topics they find most interesting and therefore increase willingness to learn. As students have more than one chance to get it right, the pressure that exams pile on vanishes. Students can plan, take their time and strive to work to the best of their ability, something that exams do not allow.

Motivation is something that can influence our marks and how well we progress in education, if we are interested in something, then we are motivated to learn it, which in turn increases grades. The Attribution Theory in education is all about how we feel about our work and the responsibility we feel towards the grades we receive.

Ability: is internal and stable, the learner has no direct control

Task Difficulty: is external and stable; it is largely beyond the learner’s control

Effort: is internal and unstable, the learner has great control of it

Luck: is external and unstable with very little control.

Students will succeed more if they believe that it is their own behaviour rather than external circumstances that lead to success or failure. The most successful students have a tendency to overestimate the degree to which their own behaviour leads to success or failure (Lefcourt, 1976).

So after summing up the last four blogs I’ve posted, I hope you can see the research that’s been included supports my notion that stress needs to be reduced in education and that there are methods available to aid this process. Stress is something that everybody will experience at some point in their lives, but If there is a solution to the amount that a person experiences, then why not reduce it. The education system in Britain (and international schooling) is in need of a radical change, students no longer learn through sitting row-by-row listening to the drone of a teacher’s voice. Learning needs to become fun and exciting and make students active achievers in their own learning processes.


12 thoughts on “Blog synthesis: How the way we are assessed can affect the way we develop

  1. You mention in your blog about task difficulty and the belief an individual has in their ability and how these can affect stress. I wanted to develop on this slightly and show how self-efficacy and task difficulty are also important for levels of motivation. Research has shown that when an instructor strengthens an individual with high self-efficacies belief in their ability to achieve high levels of performance; motivation, commitment and performance are all increased (Taylor, Locke, lee & Gust, 1984; Locke Frederick, Lee & Bobko, 1984).

    Also in relation to task difficulty although it has been linked to increased levels of stress/anxiety and reduced performance (Gellatly & Meyer, 1992). It must also be noted that if the task is not challenging enough for the student motivation and performance can be reduced (Schunk & Pajares, 2005). Therefore it appears that there is a fine balance between motivating the student with a challenging goal and demotivating a student by setting a task which is seen as too hard (Schunk & Pajares, 2005). Therefore it is suggested to set tasks that are just above the students’ ability range (Shernoff, Csikszentmihalyi, Shneider, & Shernoff, 2003).

    Overall it appears that task difficulty can have a negative impact on students, however if tasks are not challenging enough this can have negative effects on students motivation and performance. Therefore a careful balance must be found in order to achieve a method of testing students effectively and motivating them to perform better. Furthermore in relation to self efficacy it appears that improving students’ perceptions and beliefs in their own ability can be beneficial, as it leads to better performance and greater commitment to completing more challenging goals.


    Gellatly, I. R., & Meyer, J. P. (1992). The effects of goal difficulty on physiological arousal, cognition, and task performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(5), 694.

    Locke, E. A., Frederick, E., Lee, C., & Bobko, P. (1984). Effect of self-efficacy, goals, and task strategies on task performance. Journal of Applied Psychology,69(2), 241-251.

    Schunk, D. H., & Pajares, F. (2005). Competence perceptions and academic functioning. Handbook of competence and motivation, 85-104.

    Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158.

    Taylor, M. S., Locke, E. A., Lee, C., & Gist, M. E. (1984). Type A behavior and faculty research productivity: What are the mechanisms?. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 34(3), 402-418.

  2. I found the points you made about locus of control to be of particular interest. I believe that one of the most important factors when talking about assessments is the effort and motivation of the individual. Whether the assessment is mcq, essays or blogs, all of them can we worked for and planned in if the person puts in the time.

    For example, when revising for exams, Hintzman (1974) spoke about the spacing principle.Spacing revision out over weeks allows for better cognitive processing as well as other benefits such as being able to keep up on sleep and eating behaviours normally.These revision techniques come before the assessment, but are of high importance.

    I do agree with your topics over these blogs though, even taking motivation and time management into account, these can be made more difficult or more easy by the assessment method. Decisions about how and when to revise are dependent on the task difficulty and style of assessment as well as the individual. All of which would reduce stress over an exam period.

    Hintzman, D. L. (1974). Theoretical implications of the spacing effect. Theories in cognitive psychology. The Loyola Symposium, 77-99. Potomac, MD: Erlbaum.

  3. I think your conclusion about reducing stress in schools is an important one. Ellman (1981) claimed that test anxiety results in students not being able to perform to their full potential in exams. As you suggested, it seems important to try to find ways of reducing students’ stress, to give them the best chance of reaching their full potential in education. Wachelka and Katz (1999) found cognitive-behavioural therapy useful in reducing test anxiety and also found that the relief from the anxiety happens relatively quickly, so it is not a solution which will take a long time to have an effect which is obviously beneficial in education. On top of this, more research has found that CBT is not the only effective way of reducing test anxiety, and that there is a variety of effective treatments for test anxiety which improves test performance (Hembree, 1988). So, overall, I think you make a really important point about stress in education and it seems there is research which supports treatments for at least one type of stress common in education (test anxiety).

  4. Hey Becky! I just wanted to say I’ve really enjoyed reading your blogs and listening to your talks. I totally agree with the points you make in this blog about examinations and testing, and would like to add that not only are examinations stressful and anxiety-inducing, but it is questionable as to whether examinations withhold a high level of validity. Do exams actually measure what they claim to? Are students truly able to demonstrate the depth of their understanding and their learning capability in a two hour exam? Race (2009) argued that examinations do not necessarily measure learning, but the “neatness, speed and eloquence of learners’ writing. Now this module has come to an end, I find it surprising that performance-based assessments are still very much the minority, given what I now know about them in comparison to exams. Not only have I actually dedicated more learning time and effort to this module than I ever would have done revising for an exam, but I feel like I have been able to demonstrate my true academic learning capability in the absence of exam-induced stress. I just hope that educators will come to realise this and adapt assessments to allow for more opportunity to demonstrate true learning depth and capability outside the confines of an exam room.


    Race, P. (2009). Designing assessment to improve physical sciences learning: A physical sciences practical guide. Retrieved from

  5. Your points about motivation are true. When we study motivation, we look at the goal-oriented activity of students (Atkinson, 1964). Dweck (1986) found that adaptive motivational patterns promote the establishment, maintenance and attainment of personally challenging and personally valued achievement goals. Maladaptive motivational patterns, therefore, are associated with a failure: an inability to establish reasonable, valued goals; an inability to effectively strive towards such goals; or ultimately, an inability to attain valued goals that are potentially within one’s reach. Ames & Russell (1984) studied classrooms of many students and found that they can be demotivated by the structure/allocation of rewards: the structure of a course and its allocation of rewards can in itself be enough to encourage or discourage effort. Strategies have suggested that students will be more motivated to pay attention in classes if they understand how it will aid them in future exams: to keep up with readings if they know it will benefit them towards writing assignments (Meece, 1988).

  6. I found your blog really enjoyable as testing is something we are all very familiar with and I am assuming we all feel similarly about it. You focus on stress a lot and I think that this is very important when thinking about testing as it affects us all in varying degrees. It can be argued that testing in the form of exams is not a representative measure of our true performance due to anxiety. Test anxious students have been found to perform 12% below non-anxious students (Hembree, 1988). This suggests that those who were test anxious did not perform to their best ability and therefore their grades will not reflect their abilities. If exams do not measure true ability, why bother with them?
    However, I do think it is worth considering the anxiety does not only affect areas such as testing. During this module, for example, we have had to give oral presentations which people can also find stressful. Daley, Vangelisti and Weber (1995) found that anxiety effects the way a person will prepare for a presentation as well as the presentation itself. People who feel anxious will delay preparing for the presentation and will rehearse less. Because of this they will learn less from this experience as well as not receive as good a mark if the presentation is grades. It is definitely worth looking into stress and anxiety reducing tactics as it affects more than jus one area of learning and testing.


    Daly, J. A., Vangelisti, A. L., & Weber, D. J. (1995). Speech anxiety affects how people prepare speeches: A protocol analysis of the preparation processes of speakers. Communication Monographs, 62(4), 383-397

    Hembree, R. (1988). Correlates, Causes, Effects and Treatment of Test Anxiety.Review of Educational Research, 58(1), 47–77.

  7. You stated that students will succeed more if they feel it’s their own behaviour and I couldn’t agree more which is why I think self-regulated learning is the way forward. SRL allows the student to take full responsibility for their learning (Tosh et al., 2008) with little guidance from the teacher and since they have this responsibility when they succeed they can be reassures that all their success is down to themselves. This in-turn improves motivation, self-esteem and confidence allowing you to achieve your full potential (Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989).

  8. Pingback: Blog Comments Week 9 | lon03

  9. I have loved reading your blogs Becky, so I will end with you with a round up of my opinion. I think that a many different assessment methods are needed for a properly balanced curriculum. One thing I drove home in my blogs though was teaching students how to deal with these stressful experiences, as working lives are probably going to be burdened by stress! Mindfulness meditation can have a very healthy affect on people in their long term physical and mental health, particularly reducing stress (Grossman, 2003). Stress has also shown to significantly reduce your lifespan (Lupien, 2009), so we need to teach our students how to cope with stressful experiences! But I do agree that assessment methods need to be changed.

  10. I found your blog really interesting and think the topic is incredibly important. My blogs were based on a similar topic. I think you have raised a key issue with stress in education. I mentioned it in my blogs how stress can effect us in many ways and infact that even if we are not particularly nervous about exams that we still experience immunological changes (Kang, Coe, McCarthy & Ershler, 1997). I thought this was interesting as this must be more extreme if you are nervous and surely this has an effect of our performance. Surely something needs to be done to help reduce stress in education to be able to get the best out of their students. I think by reducing the pressure of what seems like constant exams should be a key aim for the future of education. Finnish schools seem to have been able to do this by basing their education policies on trust, flexibility and creativity rather than high stake exams (Sahlberg, 2007). So maybe in the future this can be looked at to help improve students performance and reduce stress.


  11. Great blog! I would like to concentrate on the testing assessment as I have been researching into different forms of anxiety. While doing so, I came across testing anxiety which is extremely common within students; 29% (Kessler, 2005). It is the feeling of nervousness and fear before an exam (Zeinder, 1998). He also noted that test anxiety can affect the individual’s ability to perform well. Although students will prepare for exams thoroughly and will know the topic previous to an exam, the anxiety and fear will take this away from them. As a result, their knowledge and effort will not be reflected in their grades. If this is the case for many students, why are we still assessed in this way?!

    Desensitisation and relaxation techniques have been found successful within education to reduce the anxiety levels of students (Garlington & Cotler, 1968). Although anxiety levels were lowered, this was not reflected in student’s grades. However, why are grades so important? Isn’t it the knowledge we achieve by learning that needs to be put into consideration? Due to this, I believe that other assessment techniques such as oral presentations and coursework should be emphasised. On the other hand, many students will dislike other forms of assessments so there is no pleasing everyone!

  12. Hi! Wonderful blog, always! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogs this semester.

    The thing I wanted to mention is this: you’ve mentioned that students get stressed around exam time. I wanted to share research that says that being stressed affects one’s ability to encode and retrieve information (Kuhlmann, Piel & Wolf, 2005). So, surely being stressed means that a person may not show their true knowledge in an exam due to not being able to retrieve information.
    You also mentioned that stress and anxiety affect different people in different ways. So, if a person maybe handles exams better than another and doesn’t get as stressed – this has implications on results.
    Let’s say student 1 and student 2 are both equally as capable and knowledgeable. But, student 1 doesn’t get stressed during exams and student 2 does. Student 2 will likely have trouble retrieving information during the exam, and so get a worse mark. As far as results show, student 1 is smarter than student 2. But this isn’t the case.
    Again I’ll ask…why is our learning and knowledge still so exam based when there is research to show that it’s not an accurate portrayal of a person’s abilities?

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