Self-efficacy, test anxiety, and cancelled school exam experience in first-year physics students

PostcardOne of the projects we have conducted was a Student Shapers project, which involves members of staff or doctoral researchers to work with undergraduates collaboratively on an educational project, such as curriculum design or education research. In the Spring and Summer 2021, Jessie Durk, Amy Smith and two undergraduate students, Rebekah Christie and Nabihah Rahman worked on a Student Shapers project investigating students experiences of cancelled A level exams (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and their experiences of sitting first year university exams.

We conducted a mixed methods study comprised of a quantitative survey that probed first year physics students’ feelings of how they were impacted by school exams being cancelled (negatively, neutral, positively), as well as how prepared they felt for their first year university exams, self-efficacy, and test anxiety. Students who felt negatively impacted by the cancellation of school exams were more likely to report feeling less prepared, less self-efficacy, and higher test anxiety, for their university exams. Our two undergraduate researchers then conducted two follow-up focus groups to further investigate students’ experiences. They found that the experiences around sitting high stakes school examinations are tied into students’ feelings of belonging and feeling like they have earned their place at university.

Our work was presented in a poster format at the Variety in Chemistry Education and Physics Higher Education Conference (ViCEPHEC) in August 2021, and received special mention for the IoP Higher Education group’s Lillian McDermott Award in Physics Education Research. We plan to submit our work for publication in a relevant journal.

Poster presented at ViCEPHEC

Following our project, we designed transition resources for the new first year students (who began their studies in October 2021). These included a Welcome Booklet and a Postcard, as well as an Isaac Physics pre-university textbook, for each student. The aim of these was to help students who have had their exams disrupted by the pandemic (which includes present and future cohorts) transition into university, and provide a friendly face to the department. We are also planning additional educational resources for the new first year students, including worked solution videos created by PhD students, for courses in their first term, such as mechanics and oscillations and waves. We are open to feedback on our welcome resources, as we plan to roll these out to future cohorts. Please let us know your thoughts!

If you would like to work with us on a future Student Shapers project, please get in touch.