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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Ringeisen, T., Lichtenfeld, S., Becker,S. & Minkley, Nina (2019). Stress experience and performance during an oral exam: the role of self-efficacy, threat appraisals, anxiety, and cortisol. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping 32(1): 50-66.

Author(s) from Durham


Background and Objectives: High self-efficacy may reduce emotional and physiological stress responses in the context of an examination. The present study investigated how these stress responses develop on an exam day, and sequential indirect effects between self-efficacy, threat appraisals, stress responses and performance.

Design and Methods: The sample comprised 92 students (46 women). Self-efficacy, threat appraisals and state anxiety were assessed on a control day one week before an oral exam. Additionally, anxiety was assessed three times on the exam day. Salivary cortisol samples were collected at all time points.

Results: Pre-exam anxiety and cortisol decreased until grades were announced. For both responses, greater levels were related to a steeper decline. However, changes in anxiety and cortisol were unrelated. Self-efficacy was negatively related to threat appraisals and anxiety on the control day. Greater threat appraisals were associated with higher pre-exam anxiety and a steeper anxiety decrease on the exam day, which in turn, was related to better performance.

Conclusions: High levels of self-efficacy may reduce threat appraisals and anxiety in the lead up to an exam, which are related to the intensity and decline of anxiety on the exam day. A steeper decline of anxiety may be beneficial to performance.

School of Education