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  • Exam stress: Impact on student success


    Stress, one of the main “friends” that accompany us on our journey in life, is also one of the main causes leading to health problems. Stressors are experienced by individuals of all age groups when encountering new situations or when facing overwhelming events that burden them mentally and emotionally.

    The Dictionary of Psychology, coordinated by Norbert Sillamy, defines stress as “a state in which an organism is threatened with imbalance under the action of agents or conditions that endanger its homeostatic mechanisms”. Golu. M. (1981) characterizes stress as: “state of tension, discomfort, caused by affective agents with negative meaning, of frustration or repression of some motivations, of difficulty or impossibility to solve some problems”.

    Thus, stress is the body’s reaction to the stressful stimulus, not the situation causing the stress. “It’s not important what happens to you, but how you react”.


    The sources and effects of stress

    The sources of stress differ from person to person, and its effects on us also vary from person to person.

    Stressful situations, such as exams, can affect learning and memory differently. When students are asked to analyze new information relevant to the exam and apply knowledge to a new situation, such assessments can help to reinforce skills and memory.

    The national exams of ability and baccalaureate are perceived in society as two assessment tests with a great impact on student’s future. The context in which preparation for these types of assessments is carried out is characterized by a large amount of information to be assimilated and a high level of demand, which generates an environment considered threatening and a heightened state of uncertainty (Clinciu et al., 2008). According to one study, among the participating students, stress levels are lower for boys compared to girls, and mathematics generates more stress compared to other disciplines. On the one hand, assessments through the ability and baccalaureate exams raise self-esteem and adjust expectations about certification of skills. On the other hand, these forms of assessment – which expose pupils to at least one year of high pressure and effort for preparation – exacerbate anxiety, depression and affect self-image, with personality traits influencing the perception of personal value in the school adaptation process.

    Stress reactions can manifest in cognitive emotional, physical (health), and behavioral domains. Mental and emotional reactions may include restlessness and hyperactivity, sadness, constant anxiety, difficulty in concentration and thinking (blank mind), memory problems (frequent forgetfulness), irritability and argumentativeness, fear of failing to meet school obligations, poor motivation for learning, restlessness and/or frequent crying. On a physical, health level, other reactions to stress can occur: drowsiness, fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, irritable bowel, teeth grinding, back pain, tachycardia, increased or loss of appetite, decreased immunity (frequent colds), difficulty sleeping (insomnia or nightmares). On the behavioral level, other forms of reactions to stress were identified: frequent tendency to argue with others, desire for loneliness or isolation, use of medication/other substances (to stay awake or to sleep), preference for other activities instead of studying, difficulty starting work, leaving class, loss of interest in activities the pupil normally did, apathy. Analyzing these reactions, we can see a similarity between the manifestations of stress and those involving conflict and aggressive behavior. These can occur between classmates (through annoyance of others, social exclusion and/or verbal violence) or between pupils and teacher (through verbal violence by the pupil towards the teacher, or by the teacher towards the pupil, etc.).

    Basically, stress affects the whole body. And apart from functional or organic symptoms, stress and its consequences – irritability, anxiety, depression – often cause relationship problems, in studies “stress begets stress”.

    Stressors in the school environment

    In the school environment, stressors come from several contexts:

    1.Unfavorable physical environment (lighting, temperature, smell, humidity, noise)

    2.The social environment of the learning process:

    – interpersonal and family conflicts;

    – conflicts with classmates, with the teacher;

    – isolation in the learning community;

    – temporary teachers;

    – grading policy, penalties, awards.

    3.The nature and organization of the learning process:

    – the volume of homework (under- or overload),

    – the pace of the work,

    – change of learning timetable,

    – excessive control and/or rigid rules,

    – ambiguity of tasks,

    – level of responsibility,

    – shift learning.

    4.Change of place of learning (migration, expulsion, reprimand, graduation)

    5.Personal factors:

    – Feeling of inferiority, incompetence;

    – increased emotionality;

    – high anxiety;

    – fear of teachers, colleagues;

    – low frustration tolerance;

    – feelings of insecurity.

    6.Competitive factors: (competitions, olympiads, exams).

    7.Family environment: Exaggerated parental demands and overloaded extracurricular activities.

    Changes within the family (moving to another town, new sibling, arguments between parents, divorce of parents, death of a close relative).

    Another group of stressors in the school environment that are most often the focus of specialists, teachers, and trainers to improve learning outcomes and school climate are:

    1.The amount of information to be assimilated by pupils or students is one of the

    stressors directly associated with the learning environment.

    2.The national examinations of proficiency and baccalaureate are perceived in society as

    two assessment tests with a high impact on students’ future.

    3.Fear of public speaking is another common stressor encountered in education systems.

    4.Fear of being wrong and feeling bad about others is another stressor.


    The impact of stressors on school success

    Stressors cause an imbalance between external demands and the subject’s internal resources. The school context and the status of the learner generate specific stressful situations, manifested by an imbalance between the demands imposed by learning and the subjective or objective capacities of the learner to cope with them. Research findings show that one in three students is highly stressed in college or high school, and stress levels increase from the sixth year of school study to the senior year. Different stress levels are found for different ages and genders. Although girls have a more developed emotional intelligence, research data shows that they are still more stressed than boys, regardless of the year of study. (Esparbès-Pistre, Bergonnier-Dupuy & Cazenave Tapie, 2015).

    These pressures can hurt students’ well-being and mental health, affecting their ability to concentrate, learn, and perform at school. Students must receive support and have access to resources to manage stress and promote their mental health and well-being at school.

    Excessive stress can negatively affect students’ school performance in several ways, including decreased concentration and attention in the classroom, reduced learning and memory skills, increased anxiety and emotional problems, and decreased motivation and interest in school.

    Signs of a student under stressors are highlighted by school refusal; fear about their safety; stomach or other pain; sadness; excessive worry about university; friends, and family, and difficulty relaxing and sleeping. Stressed students may have learning disabilities, mental weakness, or other chronic illnesses; etc. The demands and expectations of parents, teachers and the competitive spirit of the university can make students feel stressed and pressured, losing their desire to assimilate information, and thirst for knowledge and curiosity. These things lead to mechanical learning, but also to the permanent state of stress to which the student is subjected.

    Students, though in a troubled and turbulent time, are at the age of nonconformist intelligence. Imagination, creativity, and insight are at their peak. Life ideals and professional training are beginning to take shape, and old childhood passions, and why not even interest in university, are disappearing.

    The issue of career orientation is different depending on the intellectual abilities of the young person and the desire to be profiled in a particular field of activity. For some young people, their future career is a central and clear issue, and they are particularly interested in topics related to their future profession.

    Researchers’ findings on the relationship between stress and academic performance parallel the relationship between motivation and learning. Both stress and motivation involve states of drive that tend to energize the learning process. Both stress, normal and neurotic anxiety, have been found to facilitate mechanical learning and less difficult types of conscious receptive learning but also have an inhibitory influence on complex tasks that depend more on improvisational skill than on perseverance.

    The student’s stress may cause him to divert his attention from the problem to be solved to the source of his anxiety, i.e., his feelings of unacceptability. However, the individual is forced to solve the problem, and he may resort to a “rescue” solution, either by searching his repertoire for a plausible solution, or by simplifying the problem by ignoring essential information; in the case of extreme demands, the student may mentally “freeze”, giving repetitive answers without adaptive value. Regarding the relationship between stress and anxiety levels, some studies have been conducted on school populations that have shown significant correlations, such as between school stress and academic achievement (S. Nut, 2003).

    Thus, increased school stress is directly related to both the student’s anxiety level and the student’s poor academic performance and depressive reactions. The study showed that stress can enhance learning of complex tasks when they do not seriously threaten self-esteem, i.e., when they are not overly unusual or important, when anxiety is moderate, or when the learner has effective mechanisms for counteracting anxiety. The state of anxiety, and stress, has been significantly associated with poorer academic performance.

    Students with high anxiety scores were 7.7 and 2.4 times more likely, respectively, to be classified as low achievers. For both boys and girls, early anxiety symptoms contribute significantly to adaptive functioning at university in terms of learning outcomes.


    Stress Management Strategies for Students

    There are several strategies that students can use to manage and reduce stress in the school environment, including relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation; planning and organizing time to avoid crowding and cramps; adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise; communicating openly with teachers, parents, or school counselors to ask for help or support when needed; finding extracurricular activities or hobbies that provide a break from school stress.

    Tips for Students to Reduce Test Stress:

    1.Take regular breaks. The brain processes information during breaks and sleep.

    2.Break = Break! Go to another room, listen to music, go outside. The important thing is to get your mind off the test and manage to switch off.

    3.Spend quality time with your family: eat together, go for a walk, watch a movie, or just talk (but not about tests).

    4.Reconnect with friends.

    5.Make an achievable study plan for each day. This will help you feel in control.

    6.Avoid studying late at night. Your brain is already tired and you are unlikely to absorb new information. It may also interfere with your sleep.

    7.Try to establish a routine for your study time, as well as for meals, breaks, sleep, and exercise.

    8.Get out of the house every day.

    9.Do something enjoyable every day: exercise, read, watch a movie, or do some other hobby.

    10.Try new ways of learning: take notes in different colors, talk to colleagues, use Post-it notes, or invent new mnemonics. This will help you use more parts of your brain.

    11.Have confidence in your abilities!

    12.Remember that grades do not define you as a person.

    13.Try relaxation techniques: a warm bath or a few controlled deep breaths (4 seconds of slow inhalation, 5 seconds of “holding” air, and 6 seconds of slow exhalation) can help reduce stress.

    Chronic stress can jeopardize your ability to learn and memorize information, making stress management one of the most important and yet most overlooked needs. By regularly practicing stress reduction techniques, you can improve your overall stress level and better prepare yourself for the challenges ahead. It is also necessary to seriously prepare for the upcoming exams.

    14.Practice mindfulness; when you go for a walk, try to look at the world around you: identify the plants, insects, or birds you see. You’ll feel connected to your surroundings and stress may decrease.

    Chronic stress can jeopardize your ability to learn and memorize information, making stress management one of the most important and yet most overlooked needs. By regularly practicing stress reduction techniques, you can improve your overall stress level and better prepare yourself for the challenges ahead. It is also necessary to seriously prepare for the upcoming exams. We must understand that psychological stress is caused only by ourselves, by our reactions to the actions of our environment: the amount of stress we feel depends only on the nature of our thoughts! An accurate diagnosis is often difficult to make because each of us reacts differently to stress.

    All these tips can indeed make the learning process easier, but they mean nothing if you don’t put all your effort into studying the subject.


    Tips for Parents

    1.Try to provide opportunities for recess.

    2.Try not to bring up the subject of exams as this can increase anxiety. Wait for your teen to initiate the discussion. Also, avoid late-night discussions.

    3.Trust the teens in your family and remind them of their abilities.

    4.Think together about what to do after the exams: a vacation or a new hobby.



    Student stress at school is a reality for many young people and can have a significant impact on their mental health and academic performance. Schools, parents, and communities must provide adequate support and resources to manage this stress and promote student well-being. By taking a holistic approach and providing effective stress management strategies, we can help students feel more confident, balanced, and prepared to face academic and personal challenges. We must continue to recognize the importance of mental health in education and work together to create safe, supportive, and inclusive school environments for all students.

    Beyond the pursuit of academic success, it is essential to ensure the well-being of children and youth to avoid or reduce the influence and impact of stressors on their health and well-being.

    Stress is an inherent part of life in general and modern life in particular, producing both negative and positive effects. As a modern challenge, people need stress avoidance, management, and coping skills for a healthy life and well-being.

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