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Let's Talk: Youth Psychology Blog

Emotions and Academic Performance
Lia M. Daniels, PhD

Faculty of Education
College of Social Sciences and Humanities
University of Alberta

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Camacho-Morles, J., Slemp, G. R., Pekrun, R., Loderer, K., Hou, H., & Oades, L. G. (2021). Activity achievement emotions and academic performance: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 33(3), 1051-1095.

Daniels, L. M. (2020). Objective score versus subjective satisfaction: Impact on emotions following immediate score reporting. The Journal of Experimental Education, 88(4), 578-594.      

Ergene, T. (2003). Effective interventions on test anxiety reduction: A meta-analysis. School psychology international, 24(3), 313-328.

Frenzel, A. C., Daniels, L., & Burić, I. (2021). Teacher emotions in the classroom and their implications for students. Educational Psychologist, 56(4), 250-264.

Pekrun, R. (2006). The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational research and practice. Educational psychology review, 18(4), 315-341.

Schutz, P. A., & Davis, H. A. (2000). Emotions and self-regulation during test taking. Educational Psychologist, 35(4), 243–256. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3504_03 

Tze, V., Daniels, L. M., & Klassen, R. M. (2016). Evaluating the relationship between boredom and academic outcomes: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 28(1), 119-144.

von der Embse, N., Jester, D., Roy, D., & Post, J. (2018). Test anxiety effects, predictors, and correlates: A 30-year meta-analytic review. Journal of affective disorders, 227, 483-493.

Lia M. Daniels is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta. Her research explores students’ and teachers’ emotions and motivation in general, particularly related to classroom assessment practices. She directs the Alberta Consortium for Motivation and Emotion (ACME), a research-intensive lab that brings together students with interest in motivation and emotion to conduct research beyond their thesis requirements.

Academic performance is emotional. Students experience emotions as they review content and prepare for an assessment, as they complete the assessment and try to fully demonstrate their learning, as they wait for the results, and when they finally see the score that indicates their overall performance (Schutz & Davis, 2000). Sometimes these emotions take the shape of test anxiety, but other times students feel boredom or enjoyment, sometimes frustration and anger, and other times hope or relief. Academic performance is both influenced by and an influencer of students’ emotions. 

Let’s start with test anxiety because it has been studied more than any other emotion in school. According to meta-analyses, test anxiety has a small to moderate negative correlation with academic performance measured by classroom assessments, standardised tests like the SATs, and IQ tests (range r = -.10 to -.40). These effects tend to be largest in junior high school but are meaningful at every level of schooling from Grade 1 through post-secondary education (von der Embse et al., 2018). 

In response, researchers have created interventions to help students cope with test anxiety. Ergene (2003) meta-analysed 56 unique studies and found that the average effect of test anxiety interventions was .65, meaning that a student who participates in some sort of program is better off than 74% of individuals who do not participate. The most effective programs tended to combine skill development with behavioural or cognitive treatments. Thus, practitioners can engage with these interventions with fairly high confidence they will benefit students. 

But what about other emotions? Pekrun (2006) has long argued that students experience nearly every emotion at school and research now reflects this breadth. 

For example, boredom has been found to be at least as detrimental for academic performance as test anxiety with average correlations around r = -.24 (Tze et al., 2016). Researchers explain that while the active worry element of anxiety is theorised to interfere with recall during a test, boredom more likely causes students to “tune out”, thereby reducing the amount of information they initially take in during learning. 

In contrast, enjoyment not only shows a similarly sized positive effect on students’ academic performance (ρ = .27, Camacho-Morales et al., 2021), but it appears to create upwards momentum for teachers and students as a whole (Frenzel et al., 2021). Feelings of relief, pride, and hope seem to increase only when students are satisfied with their academic performance but decrease if they are unsatisfied (Daniels, 2020). This underscores the importance of students’ subjective experiences of academic performance. There is no way to guarantee that 80% will be interpreted as successful by all students and that interpretation is closely linked to their emotional experience. 

The evidence is clear that emotions are related to academic performance as a measured outcome. However, emotions are also a lived reality of assessment as a whole. So in addition to test anxiety, consider all the emotions students feel as they engage with assessments that give rise to their academic performance.