R e s i l i e n c e S t u d y : What helps students to adapt to exam stress
What is the purpose of the study?
Many students find the exam period very stressful. However students vary a lot in how much stress and distress they feel because of exams. We believe that several resilience factors help students adapt to exam stress. We therefore aimed to measure these resilience factors and stress/distress at a less stressful time before the exams, around exams, and a couple of months after the exams. This way we can test whether these resilience factors indeed lead to (a) a smaller increase in mental distress during exam time, and to (b) more recovery from mental distress after the exams. We believe that understanding these resilience factors more thoroughly will help us to support students better in the future. Moreover, we believe that such knowledge will help to inform mental health promotion as well as resilience theory.
Do you already have some results?
Yes! So far we have published one manuscript and have released two manuscripts in preparation. All can be downloaded for free.
With the first manuscript we aimed to describe the RESIST study protocol and to examine whether the exam period did, as expected, induce higher stress and distress. We found that stress and distress increased notably during the exam period, and thus that the design was indeed successful. Therefore, the way is paved for future research on RESIST data to shed light on the promotive nature of resilience factors before, during and after the stress-inducing exam period.
With the second manuscript, we tested the psychometric properties of the Youth and Childhood Adversity Scale (YCAS), because we modified the YCAS for the RESIST study. We concluded that the YCAS covers a limited (and perhaps too limited) breadth of adverse events, but allows an efficient, reliable, and externally valid assessment of early adversity. The psychometrics of the severity facet suggest that the additional assessment of adversity severity may perhaps be worthwhile, but this was not entirely clear and needs further examination. We are currently working on a revised version of the YCAS.
The third manuscript (which is still in preparation, see Chapter 7) aims to investigate the promotive nature of high self-esteem and low brooding, before, during and after the stress-inducing exam period. More specifically, we are exploring a mental health mutualism model. We are currently working on this manuscript, watch this space for updates!
What were participants asked to do in the study?
RESIST is a longitudinal online survey, consisting of three parts. Participants received one survey link before the exam period, one link during the exam period (starting 3 weeks prior to their first yearly exam), and the last link after the exams (for most students during the summer vacation). The survey questions covered the following topics: socio-demographic variables, negative life experiences, perceived stress levels, psychotherapeutic/ psychopharmacological treatment, several resilience factors (as in social, emotional, cognitive, & behavioural skills and resources), and general mental health.
Who organised and sponsored this research?
The study was carried out by me, under the supervision of Dr Paul Wilkinson. Pascal Schlechter has worked as MPhil student on the RESIST study and besides conducting fantastic research on RESIST data (see the preprint), he has contributed to the data anonymization and the participant reimbursement. Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen was involved as topic-related adviser and Dr Jan Stochl and Dr Rogier Kievit were involved as analytic advisers. The study is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Cambridge Department of Psychiatry.
Has the study been approved?
This study has been reviewed and approved by an independent group of people, the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee, who have a duty to protect research volunteers’ safety, rights, wellbeing and dignity. The study has also been reviewed by a peer research review panel of medical students.