The Effect of Examination-Related Anxiety on Career Pathway for High School Graduates

The Effect of Examination-Related Anxiety on Career Pathway for High School Graduates

Joyce Mathwasa (University of Fort Hare, South Africa) and Lwazi Sibanda (National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0319-5.ch010


It has always been said ‘Knowledge is Power' and that knowledge is gained through education, an idea as old as humanity. Learners acquire life skills such as cognitive ability, interpersonal, psychosocial, and social skills that help learners in decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, creative and effective communication. These skills are learnt through the numerous subjects within a curriculum. Dewey's assertion is that education is life itself, but it focuses on the examinations, yet life depends on the examination outcomes. This chapter focuses on how learning institutions use tests and examinations to grade learners which affects their future. The examination process causes anxiety due to lack of relevant information, inadequate preparation, and overloaded curriculum content. The pressure to achieve a certain level of excellence, family pride, academic recognition, and social mobility is stressful. The chapter will also explore the sources of stress, the levels of stress and stress management tactics.
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Dynamic changes in education, technological advancements and competitive job markets are exerting pressure on learners to gain recognition. The pressure to achieve a certain level of excellence, family pride, academic recognition and social mobility can cause stress to learners worldwide and across cultures. Dewey’s (1938) theory was that: 'Education is a social process, Education is growth, and is life itself.' However, assessing how much knowledge has been saturated by the mind to use in life one has to write a test or undergo some form of examination. While education is for life, examination determines the kind of life one lives hence, the tension leads to anxiety before, during and after an examination. The process of examination causes anxiety while the thought of what happens after the examinations is a cause for panic and stress to learners. Moving from one level of learning to the next requires one to sit for an examination at the end of the year through which they choose their career path based on the performance in a specific field of learning.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that one may feel before making an important decision, taking a test or faced with a problem. The literature on test anxiety has rather remained in the periphery of research development and it has so far to be established whether test anxiety, like clinical and high trait anxiety, is also branded by an attentional bias towards corresponding threat stimuli. Test anxiety can be described as a situation-specific form of anxiety, where a person has a more or slighter tendency to assess performance, evaluative situations as threatening and then develop an escalated degree of apprehension (Spielberger & Vagg, 1995). It is widely considered to have distinct cognitive, affective-physiological and behavioural characteristics (Zeidner & Mathews, 2005). The cognitive component, and worrisome thoughts are classically regarded as the defining constituent of test anxiety (Zeidner & Mathews, 2005) because of the negative effect of worry cognitions on performance in examinations, cognitive tasks and other forms of assessment (Chapell et al., 2005; Putwain, 2009). However, if not well managed, anxiety leads to stress which becomes more detrimental to an individual.

Stress is defined in many studies as the inability to cope with a perceived threat which can be real or imagined to one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, which results in a series of physiological responses and adaptations (Werner, 2008). The thought of an examination can be the cause of stress especially if the learner’s focus is on the outcome of the examination. Stress can even be an outcome of a combination of these factors especially when a person is unable to strike a balance between them. Consequently, stress is a person’s response to a stressor, an event that provokes some reaction. Hence, it can be said that stress is the way the body responds to any demand or threat. This reaction is because stress essentially is felt as anxiety and fear. It becomes worse when the person thinks that they have no response that can reduce the threat, as this affects the need for a sense of control in a person (Siegel, 2008). According to Siegel (2008), control is one of the deepest needs people have.

There are various causes of stress, and everyone has different stress triggers. While stress is perceived to be detrimental, it can also be healthy and helpful. Healthy stress, which is also called eustress posits that a certain level of stress is vital for some people to perform well or complete an assigned task. Some people need a tender prod to get them going. Some theories state that without stress, some people would not be able to perform to their optimal level (Dawis, Fruehling & Oldham, 1989). Thus, stress can have both positive and negative consequences. Examination stress is noticeable by highly pitched performance standards, with elevated levels of worry, self-effacement of attention while getting ready for or during the examinations (Altmaier, 1983:52). According to Hudd, Dumlao, Erdmann, Murray, Phan, Soukas, and Yokozuka, (2000), the academic workload requires that students face a series of peak periods such as finals and at the same time there is a relatively constant underlying pressure to complete an upcoming assignment. Woking hours and workload were identified to be the powerful source of academic stress (Tiwari & Balani, 2013).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Depression: Is a common but grave mood syndrome which causes severe indications that affect how one feels, thinks, and handles everyday activities, such as eating, sleeping or working. When these symptoms persist for two weeks then that proves that one has depression.

Sleep Disorders: Are variations in the way that one sleeps which affect the overall health, safety, and the quality of life. Sleep disturbances encompass disorders of initiating and maintaining sleep such as DIMS and insomnias, disorders of excessive somnolence the DOES, syndromes of sleep like wake schedule. Sleep disorders affect the learning and attention span of students.

Teaching Strategies: Are techniques, method or tactics that teachers use to disseminate information which in turn helps students to effectively learn.

Learning Pattern: Is theorised as a comprehensible whole of learning actions that learners frequently use, what they believe about learning and what motivates them to learn, the entire that is characteristic of them in a certain period. It is a synchronising concept, in which the interrelationships between affective, cognitive and regulative learning activities, beliefs about learning, and learning motivations are unified.

Stress: Is either physical or biological that is an organism's retort to a stressor such as an ecological condition. Stress is the body's technique of responding to a disorder such as a threat, challenge or corporeal and mental barricade.

Anxiety: Can be defined as a normal and frequently healthy feeling of worry, nervousness, or uneasiness about something with an indeterminate consequence. However, when an individual frequently feels inconsistent levels of anxiety, it might develop to a medical disorder. Anxiety disorders form a category of mental health diagnoses that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry.

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