The experiences of students preparing for GCSE examinations: An interpretative phenomenological analysis

  • Tee Mccaldin

Student thesis: Phd


In England and Wales, the General Certificate of Secondary Education exam is the most widely used form of high stakes assessment. Existing research has shown that student experiences around examinations can affect academic performance outcomes and levels of motivation, and that teacher language around exams can influence student experiences. This has focused mainly on the link between teachers’ use of fear appeals (messages which attempt to motivate by inducing fear) and experiences of test anxiety, and has mainly focused on teachers’ views of language. The current study aimed to explore student experiences of preparing for their GCSE examinations, in the context of receiving messages from teachers. It aimed to explore experiences beyond test anxiety, and from a student perspective. Semi structured interviews were conducted over four time-points with eight students who were preparing for GCSE examinations. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyse the interviews. Five superordinate themes were generated from the analysis: ‘Making sense of exam experiences’, ‘Enabling agency’, ‘The experience of having agency, ‘Disabling agency’, and ‘The experience of not having agency’. The findings revealed the importance of the experience of agency in moderating the link between teacher messages and student emotions, and highlighted the individual nature of the process of preparing for examinations. The main implication is that individualised approaches should be used alongside universal interventions to improve examination experience, and future research should seek to find ways to empower those working with young people to enter into dialogue with them about their exam experiences.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKevin Woods (Supervisor) & Garry Squires (Supervisor)

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