Psychometric tests to help students cope better with stress

June 12, 2008

Students in the University of Hull's psychology department are to undergo psychometric testing in an effort to measure their "mental toughness" and to improve how they manage stress. The testing will be applied to first-year students enrolling in autumn to ascertain who might thrive and who might crumble under pressure. The results will be used to help them in exams.

The testing - which will be encouraged but will not be compulsory - is the brainchild of Peter Clough, the head of department, who specialises in "mental toughness", a technique that is commonly used in sport.

He said that a "mollycoddled" approach in schools means that students coming into higher education were less able to cope with university life.

"In my view, there are too many safety nets in schools, such as the option to resit exams, meaning that young people are less tough than previous generations," he said.

"Stress is not a bad thing ... it is the approach to accepting it and controlling inner dialogue (that is necessary)," Dr Clough told Times Higher Education. "Mentally tough students perform better. We want to assess students' strengths and development needs and target our pastoral care."

Under his plans, degree students will complete a questionnaire and a personality test. The findings will be used to "toughen up" the students by targeting them with different teaching styles and care.

Dr Clough's questionnaire measures what he calls the "4Cs" of mental toughness: control, challenge, commitment and confidence. Students will be asked to respond to 48 statements on a scale of one to five. The statements include:

  • I can generally be relied upon to deliver on time when asked to do so.
  • I often feel intimidated when meeting new groups of people.

Dr Clough said that as well as helping students to perform better on their courses the move should foster employability.

Third-year psychology students in the department have undergone the testing before, but Dr Clough said he believed that it was the first time in the UK it was being rolled out more widely.

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