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Student psychology: How to impart exam motivation on students

Karen Glen
Tuesday, 03/10/2017 - 09:21

Exam motivation - Side view shot of students studying and writing together in a library.jpeg

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink: the same might apply when it comes to motivating students to study hard before exams.As a teacher, you can do everything in your power to ensure that your pupils understand their subjects and have all the materials they need to revise (including past papers), but passing those exams depends on how diligently they study and their levels of exam motivation. A lot of this will come from the individual students themselves, but there are some approaches you can adopt to impart some extra exam motivation on them.

If your students believe that intelligence can be “learned”, they’re more likely to work and perform better

If you understanding what it is that motivates students, you’ll have an easier time motivating them to pass exams. The American Psychology Association (APA) published a review presenting 20 psychology principles that impact school learners, and one key factor that influences a learner’s ability to do well in exams and at school is a growth mindset. A growth mindset assumes that intelligence can be acquired through hard work and persistence, instead of being a fixed quality. Students with this belief tend to work harder for exams, and therefore perform better than those who believe their intelligence cannot be changed. Instilling this growth mindset in your students early can positively impact their exam motivation. The APA has also written an article about using praise as a means of forging a growth mindset in students.

Motivate your students intrinsically if you want to encourage greater learning

You might think that the prospect of getting good grades, securing a spot at a tier 1 university or the fear of failure would be enough to spark exam motivation in students. However, students are more inclined to study when motivated intrinsically, as opposed to extrinsically. Intrinsic motivation, as defined by the APA report cited above, occurs when students feel that they are competent, autonomous and enjoy what they are doing (in this case, learning). Engagement in studying is not based on external rewards such as high grades, recognition or the avoidance of punishment. For the purpose of exam motivation, consider how you can make your students feel competent and autonomous. This might involve providing constructive feedback after assignments instead of highlighting marks achieved. Being cognisant of each student’s likes and dislikes can also offer clues on how to individually motivate students.

Emotional well-being plays a large part in a student’s ability to learn

Very often, the focus when discussing exam motivation is on cerebral and mental factors that can be applied to spur learning and, ultimately, academic success. However, emotional well-being plays a large role in determining a student’s propensity and ability to study. Self-esteem, locus of control, overall levels of contentment and coping skills all impact the emotional well-being of learners. Understanding the makeup of your student’s social, family and cultural background will help you identify influencing factors. As well as ensuring that the classroom, school and teachers are providing an environment conducive to good emotional health, it is important to identify emotional distress in students and intervene when necessary.

Motivate your students to succeed beyond secondary education with the right career development course

Exams are an important stepping stone to the next chapter of your students’ lives: their careers. In today’s intensely competitive job market, possessing the right transferable skills is an essential part of standing out in front of prospective employers. Developing these soft skills should begin as early as possible so that students assimilate and hone them ahead of securing employment.

Introducing a career development programme alongside the subjects taken at school as part of the Higher, Intermediate or Matriculation Exams is an effective way of introducing your students to the skills and mindset they need in order to plan their future careers. 

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