Fear Won't Boost Exam Scores: Study
Researchers found scare tactics could actually backfire, result in lower grades
TUESDAY, April 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Students can't be scared into doing well on final exams, a new study shows.
In fact, reminding them of the consequences of doing poorly on an exam could result in lower scores, the British researchers added.
The study included 347 students, average age 15, in the U.K. who were in an 18-month study program for an exam they had to take to achieve a certificate that is the equivalent of a high school diploma in the United States.
They received both negative and encouraging messages from their teachers before the exam. An example of a fear-based message was: "If you fail the exam, you will never be able to get a good job or go to college. You need to work hard in order to avoid failure."
An example of a success-focused message was: "The exam is really important as most jobs that pay well require that you pass and if you want to go to college you will also need to pass the exam," according to the study published online April 15 in the journal School Psychology Quarterly.
"Both messages highlight to students the importance of effort and provide a reason for striving. Where these messages differ is some focus on the possibility of success while others stress the need to avoid failure," study author David Putwain, of Edge Hill University in Lancashire, England, said in a journal news release.
In the study, students who felt threatened by teachers' failure-focused messages felt less motivated to do well and had lower exam scores than those whose teachers used fewer fear tactics.
"Teachers are desperately keen to motivate their students in the best possible way but may not be aware of how messages they communicate to students around the importance of performing well in exams can be interpreted in different ways," Putwain said.
"Psychologists who work in or with schools can help teachers consider the types of messages they use in the classroom by emphasizing how their messages influence students in both positive and negative ways and by recommending they consider the messages they currently use and their possible consequences," he suggested.
"Teachers should plan what types of messages would be the most effective and how they could be incorporated into the lesson plans," Putwain added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for school success.