Project Details

A two-year project, undertaken by the University of Canterbury, to understand the assessment-related anxieties which first-year students in Aotearoa New Zealand may experience.


The project aims are to:

  • describe the first-year student experience in terms of assessment anxiety and examine this trajectory over a period of 6 months
  • identify classroom practices that exacerbate/reduce assessment anxiety
  • identify plausible strategies that could aid in limiting and managing assessment anxiety for individual learners and the learning environment itself (e.g. classroom practices and university policies).


The project will use a longitudinal, multi-sample, explanatory mixed-method design and will include the following components:

  • initial post-assessment student questionnaire (semester 1)
  • post-assessment interviews with students (semester 1)
  • follow-up student questionnaire (semester 2)
  • academic/support staff questionnaire (semesters 1 and 2).



Dr Valerie Sotardi

Project leader

University of Canterbury

Associate Professor Erik Brogt

University of Canterbury




$20,000.00 (excl GST)

$10,000.00 Regional Hub Project Fund
$10,000.00 The University of Canterbury

Key Findings

  • Assessment-related anxiety is a common experience in first-year students
  • Only a small fraction of assessment-related anxieties was attributable to personality-based factors, thus suggesting that although some students are more predisposed to experiencing anxiety, the learning environment also appears to have a significant impact on the student experience.
  • The anxiety students bring to the university may influence how they perceive each assessment, prepare for specific a task, attempt to cope with the situation, and perform the task.
  • External factors, such as unclear and unrealistic expectations from lecturers as well as pressure to achieve from family/whānau were frequently reported.
  • Insufficient experience with university-level assessments appeared to result in low academic self-efficacy, thus corresponding with high anxiety about failure.

Key Recommendations

Key recommendations for teaching staff

  • Be familiar with NCEA content and structure.
  • Teach for transfer.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Communicate the purpose of an assessment.
  • Build student confidence.
  • Identify a clear contact person for the course.
  • Create a sense of belonging.
  • The learning environment matters.
  • Know the referral process.

Key recommendations for first-year university students

Identify assessment stress factors, ask yourself

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • Do I have the necessary skills? If not, where can I develop those skills?
  • What am I trying to achieve in my coursework and degree programme?
  • Have I set a realistic goal for the assessment?
  • What aspects of this assessment do I have control over?
  • How can I make a plan to prepare for this assessment?

Tips to help with assessments

  • Familiarise yourself with the university’s grading scale and assessment policies.
  • Find out information about your course assessments early.
  • Don’t avoid taking a course because of a certain type of assessmen.t
  • Planning buffers you from stress and anxiety.
  • Build friendships in your course.
  • Take time to relax and exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.

Preparing for assessments

  • Take your time but start early.
  • Det daily achievable goals and stick to them.
  • Aim high but realistic and focus on mastering the material.
  • Multitasking does not help you to learn.
  • Seek clarification.
  • Use the student support on campus.

When you’re already in deep

  • If you fall behind, talk to classmates, tutors, and the lecturer for advice.
  • If you are worried about your performance, talking classmates.
  • Use the student support on campus as mentioned above.
  • If you have (mental) health issues, see a doctor or counsellor.


Understanding Assessment Anxiety During the Transition to University

This report offers valuable insights into the first-year students' challenges and experiences, examining their anxieties during their initial coursework and prior encounters with assessment-related stress.

  • 30 November 2018
Read more


Mitigating Assessment Anxiety in First-Year University Students: A resource guide for teaching staff

This resource offers valuable insights and strategies for educators to support and guide first-year university students in managing assessment anxiety effectively.

  • 6 August 2019
Read more


Under Pressure: Understanding assessment anxiety – Resource for students

This resource aims to assist students understand assessment anxiety and provides strategies and tips to manage this.

  • 6 August 2019
Read more