Does reducing academic pressure help children succeed?

Do children perform better in school and feel more confident about themselves if they believe failure is a normal process of learning? New research published by the APA has shown that being pressured may not always be best.

Modern society and education are now obsessed with success; failure is seen as a very unacceptable and negative thing- something many students are now afraid of. Education is supposed to be challenging, difficult and push you to reach your best. It is to be accepted that failure is an important learning process. However, believing that failure is allowable may mean that some children would lower their academic expectation and not try as hard, even though they are capable of doing well in education.

This new research could have important implication for teachers, students and parents. In the first experiment 111 French sixth graders were given a difficult anagram problem that none of them could solve. The students were talked to about the difficulty of the problem by the researcher. One group were told that learning is difficult and that failure is common but that practice will aid their learning. The other group were asked how they tried to solve the problems. A test was taken that measured working memory capacity (ability for storing and processing incoming information). Many aspects of academic achievement can be predicted by working memory capacity.

The results of the study showed that the students who were told that learning is difficult performed significantly better on the working memory test, particularly on the difficult problems. When learning challenging skills, a students opinion on failure is often more important than their own success. Reducing a student’s feel on failure and boosting their confidence can improve working memory capacity.

Students would benefit more from education that gives them room to cope with difficultly. Problem solving will continue to be a part of everyday life, whether it is in school, university or a job. Failure is all about a certain mindset and one that can be broken when progress is focused on, rather than simply concentrating on test scores and grades.



American Psychological Association (APA) (2012, March 12). Reducing academic pressure may help children succeed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 25, 2012, from­/releases/2012/03/120312101439.htm


Posted on March 25, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I like this blog, success should be defined by one’s ability to adapt to failure’s. 🙂 Within the study above, the sample group used were specifically French and from a particular age group and a similar background. This means findings may be different across cultures and ages due to people’s outlook on failure; such as the Japanese have historical traditions such as Seppuku which was ritualistic suicide of the samurai who were deeply shamed by their failures. This means that a populations outlook on failure may vary from culture to culture and it may not necessarily mediate success. Japanese people do not seem to suffer academically because of the pressure that is placed on them, however reducing pressures may reduce internal stress which would make it easier to concentrate. Also, being told the difficulty of something is likely to make someone work harder at it because of the knowledge that they are not the only one’s struggling, and in the contexts of an experiment may also simply encourage children because of the Hawthorne effect I.e someone watching them while they are figuring out the problem.

  2. When we learn something and then teach it to someone else, we potentially contribute to a collective repertoire that continues beyond ourselves (Binder, 2005). I like this blog, in a study I recently read by Marks (2002) it was suggested that while parents believe in the importance of free time for their children, they would willingly make the decision to sacrifice the child’s free time in hopes of improvement of their Childs academic success. Although, the study itself showed that decreasing free time in an educational environment may also decrease a child’s academic performance.

    It is also proven that teaching strategies like Precisions Teaching, which is based on a less stressful; learning in your time environment is very successful in improving a child’s academic achievement. This theory also implements a rule that there are no such things as mistakes on learning opportunities. As stated in a study by Binder (1988) combining a Precision Teaching strategy, as a practice and measurement strategy, with a Direct instruction has proven a very successful when used to improve a student’s academic success

  3. It is true that sometimes a past failure in school,university,or in life generally can affect really bad on one individual’s psychology. Specially in the past years there was the tendency to believe that when somebody fails digs a lot more in the future and achieves his goals. However,sometimes that is the ideal but not realistic. If an individual fail again and again he may be easily dissapointed and so because of that he may fails even more in the future. Psychology plays a really important role for that kind of issues ,specially in ages like childhood that a fail in school can have a bigger impact in one child’s psychology. That’s why all schools must hire psychologists to handle this kind of matters. Most people when graduate from school find it really hard to deal with the challenges and the requirements that there are in university,job and their everyday life. If parents, teachers and psychologists in school prepare a child for these things then life is going to be easier and that child is going to deal better with its future failures.

  4. All work completed at university is challenging, if it wasn’t we would see no improvement. The key to gaining achievements and success in work is that the work load is gradually increased and made more difficult overtime so we don’t feel overwhelmed. If we were given the standard of work that is expected of us in the third year now, many students would probably be unable to cope. When a person is told the work is going to be difficult they may get into a different mindset, they may also set time and do the research thoroughly because they know it is going to be difficult. If they know it needs more time and energy they are more willing to put the effort in instead of leaving things last minute. However, if work is to difficult and the person continues to fail but is told to learn from the mistakes this can lead to a negative breakdown and a lack of self worth (Novak, 2010). Also constant pressures of the environment will also lead to these feelings, having a break from work now and then is needed to maintain the balance of intellectual and social development. In our psychology degree we are constantly being given tasks but all which have different levels of difficulty and some do not take as long as others to complete. For example we write a blog every two weeks but only have one final report at the end of the semester, the report takes longer and is more difficult but we are given much more time and guidance.

    Novak, J D. (2010). Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge: Concept Maps as Facilitative Tools in Schools and Corporations, Taylor and Francis, 31-32.

  5. Despite being an interesting pieces of research there are some research methodologies issues which arise, the first being cultural differences, as discussed in previous comments traditions about failure acceptance are different, as would teaching styles and qualification systems therefore it may be acceptable to fail within some educational systems, but a failure in an exam say at A level or a university final could have significant implications on the individual. Another issue to arise within the study is that the sample is specific to just french students at a particular level therefore hard to generalise to wider populations and the task is specific to anagram completion raising concerns about whether this would generalise to other educational tasks. More research could look into the effect of failure in different educational settings.

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