25+ Alarming UK Exam Stress Statistics for 2020

Did you know that 50% of people with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14? Most of these cases have a stress-related background. 

Stress in children may lead to deterioration of their mental health. 

What’s more: 

Teenage exam stress statistics show that more and more students want to know how to not stress about exams.

And that’s not all:

Exam stress statistics further show that the demand for student mental health help is increasing, especially in the periods when students are being assessed. 

In the UK, there have been great reforms in the qualifications with certificates such as the GCSEs and the A-Level exams. 

The burning question is:

Just how much have these reforms affected the students? 

At Mark in Style, we decided to study the latest UK stress statistics to find out.

Let’s dive right in.

Worrying Exam Stress Statistics (Editor’s Choice)

  • 15% of GCSE students may fall into the category of being ‘highly test anxious’.
  • 30% of children and young people talked to Childline about their mental or emotional health in 2018/19.
  • According to 82% of teachers, tests and exams have the biggest impact on pupils’ mental health.
  • 73% of teachers believe student mental health has worsened since the introduction of the reformed GCSEs.
  • 55% of teachers believe that mental health has worsened among students since the reforms of the A-Level exams.
  • 16.4% of the post-secondary students reported themselves to be ‘highly test anxious’.
  • 81% of school leaders worry more about pupils’ mental health during assessment periods than they used to.

General Anxiety Facts UK

1. 15% of GCSE students may fall into the category of being ‘highly test anxious’.

(Putwain & Daly)

A scientific research study from 2014 estimates the proportion of students who describe themselves as strongly test anxious in a sample of English secondary schools and whether this proportion differs by gender. 

According to the data obtained, it’s clear that the teenage anxiety test is present in a significant proportion.

2. 16.4% of the post-secondary students reported themselves to be ‘highly test anxious’. 

(Putwain & Daly)

Although not all students with a high level of test anxiety risk are underachieving and becoming disconnected from school and academic activities, there may be a significant group of students who would benefit from specialist support and intervention. 

3. Female students are proportionally significantly more test anxious (22.5%) than male students (10.3%).

(Putwain & Daly

The survey collected data on test anxiety from 2435 upper secondary students in 11 schools. Results show considerable gender differences in the worry and tension components of test anxiety. 

In fact: 

Female students are significantly more test anxious (22.5%) than male students (10.3%). Click To Tweet

General GCSEs Statistics

4. The largest percentage increase in the number of qualifications with certificates was seen in GCSE (9 to 1) qualifications (up by 44% in the 2018/19 academic year).

(Ofqual)

Any organisation that wishes to offer regulated qualifications such as GCSEs, A-Levels, and O levels in the UK must be recognised by Ofqual

The largest percentage increase in the number of qualifications with certificates has been in the GCSE (9 to 1). This was accompanied by a sharp percentage decrease in the number of GCSE qualifications (A* to G). Both trends are due to the reforms of the GCSEs.

Here’s the thing:

As part of the reform of the GCSE qualifications, the old grading scale from A* to G was replaced. In the new, reformed GCSEs, the grading scale is 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. 

Students can also be given a grade U, which means unclassified – i.e., below the standard required for a grade 1 or higher.

5. More than one in five (20.8%) UK GCSE entries scored one of the three top grades in 2019, up from 20.5% the previous summer. 

(The Guardian)

The proportion of GCSEs that received top marks has risen for the second year in a row. 

In the 2018/19 school year, the number of pupils who earned a grade 7 and above (grade A) was 20.6%, the highest number since 2015 (21%). Two-thirds (67%) of the pupils reached grade 4 and above (grade C) in 2018/19, the highest number since 2013.

In the last 11 years, less than 2% of students have failed the GCSE exams. In 2019, 98.3% of students achieved at least a grade 1 or higher (grade G), only slightly less than in the previous year. 

Unfortunately, these facts don’t make students any less worried about exams.

6. In 2019, 156,700 or 27.0% of 16-year-olds in England only took 9 GCSEs.

(Ofqual)

In 2019, over 4.6 million 16-year-olds in England took their GCSE exams, 50,000 more than in 2018, and the majority of students took 8 or 9 GCSE subjects (50.1%). 

A small percentage (17.7%) of students took 10 or more GCSE exams in 2019. Every 20th student in 2019 took between 1 and 3 GCSE exams.

7. In England, 66.4% of all 16-year-olds who got all 9s in all subjects were female and 33.6% were male.

(Ofqual)

Only 837 students out of 580,850 in England got all 9s in all subjects. 66.4% of them were female, and 33.6% were male. This is a very small proportion.

Student Stress Statistics UK: Childline Facts

8. 30% of children and young people talked to Childline about their mental or emotional health in 2018/19.

(Childline)

According to the most recent facts about stress, last year, Childline provided over one- quarter of a million counselling sessions to children and young people. Children and young people are most likely to talk about their mental and emotional health (30%). 

9. 4% of children and young people talked to Childline about their problems in school or with education, exam pressures, exam depression, concerns about performance, post-exam stress, not coping with workload, new school worries, or problems with teachers.

(Childline)

How to deal with exam stress is a common concern for UK students, according to Childline exam stress statistics. 

Childline is a service that provides advice and support to people under the age of 19 in the UK. In 2016/17, this stress helpline conducted 3,000 advice sessions on exam stress online or by telephone, an increase of 2% from 2015/16

How Hard are GCSEs?: Mental Health Implications 

stressed young man

10. 55% of secondary school leaders don’t feel they have adequate information to ensure pupils sitting GCSEs are well-prepared. 

(The Key)

The reform of the GCSEs meant that secondary schools were working with revised subject content, a reduction in non-examination assessments, and a new grading scale. 

So, it should come as no surprise that only about one in ten (12%) school leaders felt adequately equipped. In contrast, five in ten (55%) felt they were unable to adequately prepare students for the GCSEs. 

Key takeaway:

The lack of sufficient preparation in class helps explain why students are turning to Child Development GCSE revision online textbooks.

11. 67% of secondary school leaders believe GCSE reforms have detrimentally affected the curriculum.

(The Key)

While students are increasingly stressed about exams, more than four-fifths (85%) of secondary school leaders fear students will be disadvantaged by employers’ lack of knowledge of the new system. 

At the same time: 

School principals agree that too much emphasis is placed on academic tests as a measure of student success. Click To Tweet

12. 81% of school leaders worry more about pupils’ mental health during assessment periods than before.

(The Key)

Stress and anxiety among young people are increasing. Pupils seem to be more afraid of what lies beyond school, exam stress statistics from the UK confirm.

Changes in the curriculum, assessment, and accountability relate to why exams are bad and students’ mental health is deteriorating. 

In particular, the fear of school failure has increased. 

It gets worse:

Most school leaders see a direct link between these system changes and a deterioration in pupils' mental health and well-being. Click To Tweet

Schools work with partners and train staff to identify early indicators of poor mental health, among many other measures. 66% of headmasters mentioned that schools work with parents to support student wellbeing.

13. 79% of school leaders have noticed an increase in stress, anxiety, and panic among their pupils.

(The Key)

In secondary schools, we see that depression, stress, anxiety, and fear for the future are extremely common. 

Here’s the deal:

79% of secondary school leaders have noticed an increase in fear of academic failure, 53% noticed an increase in eating disorders, and 59% noticed fear for the future amongst the pupils.

With regards to the depression test, UK school leaders believe that changes to the curriculum and school performance measures are not only causing challenges for them but are also affecting their pupils.

14. 26% of school leaders think exams/tests put the greatest pressure on pupils.

(The Key)

It should come as no surprise that trying to figure out how to do well in GCSEs is causing great pressure on students. 

As a result, four out of five school principals are concerned about students’ mental health during the assessment period. 91% of secondary school principals witness evidence of mental health problems. 

At the same time, 47% of secondary school principals say young people’s academic resilience has deteriorated.

15. 83% of school leaders said their schools make counselling available in their schools to support pupils’ wellbeing.

(The Key)

In addition to working with parents, schools have trained their staff to recognise early signs of poor mental health. They’re also appointing designated mentors to support pupils.

Which brings us to the next crucial topic, namely:

Schools and Mental Health Support 

16. 66% of school leaders said their school commissioned external professional support for children and young people’s mental health issues in school, compared to 36% in 2016.

(Place To Be)

In 2016, just over a third of schools in England provided school-based support for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. By 2019, this had almost doubled. There’s an increased demand for mental health counselling, and schools are seeking external help.

What’s more:

School leaders state their schools have a wholesome approach to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, student stress statistics from the UK confirm. That includes designated staff members responsible for mental wellbeing in their school. 

17. 74% of school principals said the majority of their staff were confident they understood the underlying problems that affect the behaviour of children and adolescents.

(Place To Be)

A survey revealed an improved picture of mental health understanding and support in schools as a whole. 

School principals said the majority of their staff were confident they understood the underlying problems that affect the behaviour of children and adolescents (74% in 2019 vs. 68% in 2017) and how children’s and adolescents’ mental health affects their learning behaviour (81% vs. 77%).

18. Only 54% of school leaders think their staff would be confident in knowing how to respond when mental health is negatively affecting pupils.

(CMHW)

Compared to 47% in 2017, 54% of school principals believe their staff would be confident that they knew how they would react if the mental health of students was affected. 

Additionally, 44% know how to react if a student has a mental health crisis, compared to 39% in 2017). While it’s great news to see a positive trend, the percentage remains shockingly low.

Is School Pressure Making Pupils Suicidal?

studies on exam stress statistics

19. Almost half (49%) of education staff say secondary school pupils have been suicidal because of the stress they’re under.

(NEU)

According to a recent survey, 81% of students in secondary schools said that students hurt themselves because of the pressure they’re under.

The NEU surveyed 730 educators’ results to give insight into how does exam stress affect students. 

Here’s what they discovered:

Overall, more than half (56%) of students’ mental health problems lead to self-injury. Additionally, 45% reported that students have eating disorders, and 48% said students have panic attacks.

20. 82% of teachers believe exam pressure has the biggest impact on pupils’ mental health.

(NEU)

Almost seven out of ten respondents said they thought their school or college was dealing with more student mental health problems than five years ago. Additionally, a third said they were dealing with significantly more student mental health problems than a year ago.

Do exams cause stress? 

According to 82% of those surveyed, tests and examinations have the greatest impact on students’ mental health. Moreover, 67% said this was due to pressure from schools to perform well; 50% said it was due to a narrowing of the curriculum, and 48% said it was due to pressure on themselves to perform well academically.

The Reformed GCSEs and Mental Health

21. 73% of teachers believe student mental health has worsened since the introduction of the reformed GCSEs.

(NEU)

Are the new GCSEs too hard?

Let’s get a bit of background covered first:

Legacy GCSEs are those that existed before the reforms. 

As we mentioned earlier, they were graded A*-G and included exams, coursework, and controlled assessments that were taken throughout the course. 

In contrast: 

The reformed GCSEs that we now have are graded 9-1, and many subjects are evaluated solely through end-of-course examinations.

When asked how the assessment methodology of the reformed GCSEs compared to the old GCSEs has affected the mental health of students, three-quarters (73%) of teachers said things had worsened. A negligible 3% believe the current system is better.

This can only mean one thing: 

The reformed GCSEs are making exam stress even worse and piling on more pressure on students and teachers alike.

22. 54% of teachers believe students’ ability is less accurately recorded by GCSEs than before.

(NEU)

Besides the fact that reformed GCSE stress students, teachers disagree about whether they’re recording the students’ abilities more accurately. 

The thing is:

When asked how well they think the reformed GCSEs reflect the actual skills of their students, a majority (54%) believe they are less effective at capturing skills than the older GCSEs. On the other hand, one-fifth (19%) saw an improvement. 

23. 61% have seen a worsening of student engagement in education as a result of the reforms.

(NEU)

Why are exams so stressful? 

Clearly, reformed GCSEs are pushing students to exercise their limits. Stress statistics show that students are worried because of the end-of-course examinations.

At the same time, teachers feel inadequately prepared to support their students. 

As a result: 

When asked how the GCSE reforms are affecting student engagement in education, the results were largely negative. 61% believe they have declined, while only 7% have seen an improvement. 

The Damaging Impact of A-Level Reforms

24. 55% of teachers believe mental health has worsened among students since the reforms of A-Level exams.

(NEU)

How do exams affect mental health? 

After recent reforms of the A-Level exams, the National Education Union reported that teachers in many cases expressed that the reforms have a negative impact on students.

When asked how the assessment method for the reformed A-Levels has affected the mental health of students, the majority (55%) stated mental health is getting worse. 

Although the majority of teachers believe that A Level stress is getting worse, one-third believe it is no better or worse than before. Finally, only 7% believe things are better.

25. 37% of teachers believe the new courses less accurately reflect students’ abilities when compared with legacy A-Levels.

(NEU)

Where the old A-Levels included exams, coursework, and controlled assessments that were carried out throughout the course, and AS levels counted for 50% of the qualification, the new A-Levels differ significantly. 

Here’s how:

AS Levels are no longer counted, and for many A-Level subjects, coursework has been significantly reduced or is now assessed solely through end-of-course examinations.

When asked how well the reformed A-Levels reflect their students’ actual abilities compared to the old A-Levels, the majority (55%) considered them better or not different, a significant minority (37%) considered them less accurate.

26. 34% of teachers believe the reforms have decreased student engagement.

(NEU)

On the question of how A-Level reforms affect student engagement in class, only one in ten (10%) felt that student engagement had increased, while one-third felt it had decreased.

Conclusion

Exam stress statistics show that children in the UK are clearly affected. And from what we’ve seen, there is serious evidence from counselling services and school principals that it’s a growing issue. 

The major reforms in the GCSE and A-Levels have had a negative impact on student health and wellbeing, as the latest stress facts reveal all too well.

Bottom line:

We need to do more to relieve student as well as teacher stress, both in and out of the classroom.

Sources:

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