Teachers’ scare tactics may cause lower exam scores

Teachers’ scare tactics may cause lower exam scores

Fear apparently is not a good motivator, at least not for students taking exams. According to new research published by the American Psychological Association (APA), reminders by teachers that failing a test can result in dire consequences may cause students to score lower on exams.

The study, published online in April in the journal School Psychology Quarterly, found that students felt less motivated and performed poorly on tests when they felt threated by their teachers’ messages that focused on failure. Those students who found their teachers less threatening performed better because they reported that their teachers used less scare tactics.

According to the study, motivation by fear would come through such messages as, “If you fail the exam, you will never be able to get a good job or go to college. You need to work hard in order to avoid failure.” Messages that emphasized success would include such encouragement as, “The exam is really important as most jobs that pay well require that you pass, and if you want to go to college you will also need to pass the exam.”

Study participants included nearly 350 male and female students in England, 15 years old on average. The two schools the participants came from offered an 18-month study program to prepare for the exam that would award students what’s equivalent to a U.S. high school diploma.

Students were asked to answer questions about how frequently their teachers tried to motivate them with fear of failure and then their level of feeling threatened was measured as well. At the end of the 18-month program, researchers collected the students’ final grades.

“Psychologists who work in or with schools can help teachers consider the types of messages they use in the classroom by emphasizing how their messages influence students in both positive and negative ways, and by recommending they consider the messages they currently use and their possible consequences,” said lead study author David Putwain in a statement.

“Teachers should plan what types of messages would be the most effective and how they could be incorporated into the lesson plans,” added Putwain, a professor in education at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, England.

Related Posts



  1. Positive motivation that doesn’t generate anxiety is a much better approach in my opinion.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.