Exams still a major cause of stress for teenagers, survey finds

Exams are still a major cause of stress for teenagers despite reforms aimed at tackling the issue, a survey has found.

The study was conducted among more than 3,200 students by the national executive of Comhairle na nÓg, which represents youth councils in the country’s 31 local council areas.

More than three-quarters of students felt they learn best when they take part in active learning, like project work, role plays, quizzes, and debates, and with feedback from teachers.

Among the least-supported learning methods was that which just involved their teachers talking.

Students also strongly favoured class discussions, or answering questions after watching video clips.

Asked for their comments on classroom experiences, some students suggested more fun but with a boundary that ensures they can learn at the same time.

A strong majority felt that teachers encouraged and supported them, and have high expectations for them, but less than one-third believed they made learning interesting and fun.

“Have teachers be more energetic, enthusiastic and less monotone. Although this only applies to certain teachers, ’cos some teachers already do this and make learning easier,” a fourth-year male student in Co Waterford wrote.

The strong support for answering exam questions during class reflected the emphasis found here and in other studies on exam preparation, but this emerged as one of the biggest sources of stress for young people.

Although four-out-of-five exam students said they were the biggest cause of stress, it was slightly higher for those preparing for Junior Certificate than among Leaving Certificate students.

The survey echoes other research that has flagged the early focus in schools on exams, and it also found that students became less happy at school after first year.

Less than half of students were satisfied with the availability of career guidance, and the level and quality of learning support was deemed satisfactory by only half of those surveyed.

Slightly more girls than boys took part, and the participants included around 60 students who did not identify as male or female.

The report of the findings will be launched this morning by Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and Education Minister Richard Bruton.

The research support team was led by Professor Dympna Devine, head of University College Dublin’s school of education, who has examined many of these issues in previous studies.

“The emphasis on high stakes exams needs attention as it influences not only student wellbeing, but also how teachers teach,” the report states. It said more research is required about the kinds of learning methods that challenge and stimulate.

“The benefits of such methods need to be explored so that relationships between teachers and students are based on mutual trust and respect,” it said.

The ministers said the young people’s views in the report will provide an insightful contribution to the Department of Education’s review of the senior cycle of second-level education.

Despite all but a handful of second-level schools having student councils, they said it is concerning that young people sometimes worry that their views and suggestions are only listened to in a cursory or tokenistic way.


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