Most students don't respond well to exam stress.

How do NAPLAN exams impact student motivation?

With the more than 1 million children recently sitting NAPLAN tests across Australia, the debate has ramped up around the effects exams have on the stress level of students. However, with news of a new online testing system, will next years tests be less taxing?

An exam causes a concoction of chemicals that cause anxiety, fear and discomfort to be released.

It's natural for students to get stressed about exams

The science behind exam stress is quite simple, according to the Independent. Just like if you were to face a real threat, an exam causes a concoction of chemicals that cause anxiety, fear and discomfort to be released – a feeling many of us are likely familiar with.

A good level of stress is important, as it can provide that bit of energy to scribe down the last two paragraphs of an essay question in record time. But it can also work many other students into panic, meaning that they perform far more poorly than they are actually capable of.

Social psychologist Martyn Denscombe researched what causes exam stress, suggesting there are four distinct elements that impact each student:

  • The impact a bad result could have on their future
  • Damage to self-esteem if they get a low grade
  • Being judged by friends and parents
  • Disappointing their teachers

While none of these are really surprising factors, it does provide some insight to how we can help aid students troubled by tests.

When the nature of testing makes students feel like a lot is on the line, it's easy to get stressed out.When the nature of testing makes students feel like a lot is on the line, it's easy to get stressed out.

NAPLAN not conducive of stress-free education

Prior to the year's testing, ACARA CEO Robert Randall addressed some of the concerns about the examination process in a public statement.

"As with any test, some students may feel anxious, but it is up to the adults in children's lives to help keep NAPLAN in context," he said.

"It is a point-in-time snapshot assessment of students' achievements in these important areas. NAPLAN certainly does not replace the important tests that are regularly held in classrooms around the country; it simply complements existing tests and adds a valuable national dimension," Mr Randall says.

Even so, the way NAPLAN is portrayed by many of our educators and administrators does not make it any easier for the students. For instance, with all tests being sat in unison across the country, it feels more like a major event than a complementary test. Students know that their performance on this one day will be scrutinised and compared to every other student.

However, a new online system for testing students that is being rolled out looks to help alleviate many of the drivers of stress.

Students will be able to take the test when their teacher thinks they're ready."

Online NAPLAN testing could relieve symptoms

In theory, the online system will reduce the impact the tests have on student stress, writes Tim Dodd for the Australian Financial Review. For example, it will be possible for students to sit the test at alternative times and even attempt it a second time if they feel they can improve on their grade.

Managing Director of Person Australia explained at the Emerging Trends in Learning and Working conference that a shift to a digital medium would certainly benefit the students and the teachers as well.

"Rather than the current 'event-based' approach on a given day in May, with all of the associated stresses and unintended negativity, students will be able to take the test when their teacher thinks they're ready," said Mr Barnett.

With NAPLAN testing possibly taking a new form, teachers will need education tools that enable them to better differentiate the curriculum in response to timely student performance feedback. By using a tool like Best Performance's Customised Naplan Analysis Platform (CNAP), you can help turn all of your student data into meaningful information and personalised teaching guides. 

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