Black and white image of school girl holding her head looking worriedBlack and white image of school girl holding her head looking worried

The exam stress red flag – how threat detection technology can identify those at risk of lower than expected grades

A first-of-its-kind study documents some of what’s actually happening to students when they are stressed over statewide exams.

Sixty-seven percent of public school parents already feel that too much emphasis is placed on standardized testing in the public schools in their communities. The new study reveals that minority students from low-income households are much more affected by high-stakes testing with a 15% increase in cortisol levels in the period just before taking a high-stakes test than they were during a regular week.

For teens, the most commonly reported sources of stress are school (83%). Many teens report lying awake at night (35%), overeating or eating unhealthy foods (26%), and skipping meals (23%) due to stress in the past month.

Teachers also express concerns that students are spending too much time on testing and preparing for testing. Of course, an increased need to support and mentor students places huge pressure on teachers, who are already challenged with resource constraints and growing pressure to ensure exam results hit heightened expectations across the board.

Adele Abbiss, Online Safety Expert at Smoothwall, discusses the different types of stresses children can face, the role exams play in child wellbeing and how using digital threat detection can help to identify those at risk.

The different types of stress

As children progress in their education, the stresses they face and their responses to these stresses change. Research suggests that there are three types of stress responses that children have: positive, tolerable, and toxic.

Positive stress: this type is normal and is considered an essential part of development. This could occur when students manage to overcome an obstacle they believe that they can control and manage.

Tolerable stress: this type of stress is thought to occur over a specific time period and is often the result of a big change in a student’s life. This could include a family break-up, sudden illness or even bullying. If a child is supported through this, these stresses are likely to be alleviated over time.

Toxic stress: this is when a student experiences much stronger and longer stressors without the appropriate support to help them overcome it. This can disrupt development and lead to an increased risk of problems in terms of learning, behavior, physical and mental health.

The link between exams and stress

Stress is often used as an umbrella term to describe the negative effects of taking exams. Negative effects can include time pressure, exam preparation, and workload. Even factors such as the constant worry about not living up to expectations and the grades they may or may not achieve can send stress levels soaring. Too much of these stresses and not the right support can lead to the development of further problems such as anxiety, anger, irritability and sleeping issues. And crucially, concentration levels and ultimately exam performance.

Children don’t always have the ability to recognize that they are stressed and so often don’t ask for help. This places pressure on teachers, who may be left unaware of a struggling student until it’s too late to reverse the effects on their wellbeing and exam results.

Being able to spot the red flags early on can help schools to provide the necessary support before it’s too late.

Using threat detection technology to identify those at risk

Including digital threat detection as part of a school’s safeguarding scheme helps to identify those students who are feeling the strain, including high performing pupils. Indicators that a student is stressed or has mental health concerns such as depression, self-harm or suicide can be picked up in real-time if they have used their keyboard or screen in any way to view, message or type out their feelings – even if the message was never sent or the document was never saved.

Early identification means early intervention. That’s crucial for a child’s wellbeing and crucial for their academic performance.

For students already identified at risk, digital threat detection can evaluate their behaviors and check for progression, ultimately creating a safety-net for schools to spot signals that may otherwise go unnoticed.

For further in-depth information about the role of digital threat detection technology, how it can support schools to protect students from mental health concerns, and how it can be successfully integrated into your schools existing safeguarding strategy, download our free whitepaper linked below.

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