According to a report published by the Department of Education and the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Irish students have higher levels of anxiety towards exams and schoolwork than students in other developed countries.

The report found that around 45% of secondary school students surveyed felt that “they often or always felt they would never do as well as others in exams” and 52% worried what would happen if they failed an exam. 43% reported feeling stressed when thinking about doing exams. The report also makes clear that these figures reflect students who are “doing exams fully supported by and attending their school.” These figures are significantly higher than Ireland’s OECD counterparts. 

The report also detailed concerns over student mental health in general with one-third of students reporting having a mental health condition by the time they are 13. Life satisfaction rates are also significantly lower in Ireland for students than in other OECD countries. Additionally, female students report lower satisfaction rates than male students and also report higher levels of exam-related stress (around 50%). 

The publication stated that the COVID-19 pandemic would likely have an adverse effect on psychological well-being and as such would add more pressures to students who may “experience a heightened perception of risk and fear of loss” especially if they have healthcare workers as family members. It recommended the Leaving Certificate 2020 be moved to a calculated grading system to alleviate some of the additional stress put on students during the pandemic stating that calculated grades would promote “a sense of efficacy, resilience and wellbeing.” The report was a key consideration in the decision of Minister Joe McHugh to cancel the exams this summer. 

Students looking to transition to third level will also be affected by anxiety around the current calculated grades system and how it will affect the CAO process. While the report does not specifically address this facet of student anxiety it may bring into question the adverse effect the uncertainty caused by a new system will have. The report, however, is firm in its assertion that the system of calculated grades will alleviate more anxiety for second-level students than it will cause. 

Ann Jaffray – Reporter