Assessment And Stress in Students Majoring in Agriculture-Related Fields

Abstract

This paper is based on the responses from the undergraduate students at Faculty of Agriculture (Banat University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine, Romania). This research investigated the level of stress associated with assessment during winter examination session. Relationships between I-E Locus of Control and level of stress, were explored. Four demographic variable were used Age, Environment, Gender, Year of Study. A total of 83 students participated voluntary in this research, asking them to accept to be part of an interventional program ”Stress Management”, if the level of stress is high. Database were obtained through two questionnaire: Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale (29 items) and Cohen-Williamson’s Perceived Stress Scale (14 items). The results, sustain that there is a statistically significant correlation between level of stress and I-E Locus of Control, but contrary to study in the field, the level of stress during assessment, was low to medium. This results was an obstacle in implementing a training program for stress management. The research present correlation between each of four demographic variable, and level of stress, and I-E Locus of Control.

Keywords: Undergraduatesassessmentstressexamination sessionFaculty of Agriculture

Introduction

Approaching psychological issues of examining and assessing school results, started in Romania

in 1975 with D. Vrabie’s book “Students’ attitude towards school evaluation”. Since then, the issues have

diversified and have become more complex, which generated a different, more specialized approach. The

issues regard not only the contents, but also the system level; thus, if initially they studied the consequences of evaluating at secondary level, the last years have seen an increasing interest in tertiary

education as well.

Because of the changes in the academic environment, students’ stress can affect health and

academic performance (Hamaideh, 2011). The last years have seen an increasing number of students

(Lane, 2010), and students’ stress extends at larger scale: it has become a phenomenon that needs to be

managed by universities through specialised departments. Stress responses cover a wide range such as

affective, behavioural, psychological and cognitive responses (Lakaev, 2009), physical and emotional

reactions, and cognitive evaluations (Gadzella, 1994).

Locus of control represents both a belief and a personality trait that influences the way in which

individuals plan activities and approach situations (Rotter, 1966, in Erdogan, 2003). In an educational

context, locus of control marks students’ learning difficulties and attitude change (Sardogan et al., 2006).

Students with inner locus of control believe power and control lie in their hands since they control and

influence the course of events in their lives. They have a positive self-concept and they believe they can

direct their life’s route as they wish (Findley and Cooper, 1983). Students with outer locus of control

believe outer forces control everything in a positive or negative way. They believe that events and

situations cannot be controlled or predicted (Findley and Cooper, 1983).

1.1.Problem Statement

Evaluating students is an important step in the educational process since it plays a role in both

identifying the level of knowledge acquisition and in adapting curricula to the demands of the labour

market. As for students’ behaviour during examination sessions, there are students who believe they can

face evaluation and control evaluation-engendered stress and students that hope to be lucky enough to

come across an easy subject or to meet an indulgent teacher.

Evaluation-related stress in students is still an issue since it affects the way in which they approach

evaluation, performances and, finally yet importantly, health. Participating in stress management

programmes can be a real support in the development of abilities that help them face examination periods

and other stressful situations successfully.

Locus of control is extremely important as far as the students’ belief that they can influence school

results is concerned. Locus of control is a system of stable beliefs that divide individuals in two groups:

inner locus of control (who believe that their actions and behaviour are decisive in the management of

situations they have to face) and outer locus of control (who believe that chance, luck or relationships can

help them solve their problems) (Rotter et al ., 1972, in Henderson, 1982). Evaluating locus of control has

a major influence not only on the behaviour of individuals, but also on their performances, acting like a

reason (Phares, 1976, in Henderson, 1982). To note that both locus of control and stress influence the

performances of the individuals, evaluation providing the opportunity to develop a more complex image

on evaluation, academic performance and different factors. Though Dumas’ study (2014) focuses on

aggressors, there are significant positive correlations between the inner locus of control, self-esteem,

Agreeableness, Consciousness and Openness – traits evaluated through the Big Five questionnaire.

The issue of students’ stress is a current one because of the diversity of the different aggressors, of

the different coping strategies and, last but not least, of the stage in the educational process. Since the prevalence of stress is rather high among the students, research in the field recommend particular

attention to the subject. They recommend longitudinal studies for the evaluation of the most effective

techniques of intervention (Benton et al., 2003; Robotham and Julian, 2006; Hystad et al., 2009).

Students’ stress is related to very many events, not just to exams. On the background of their

problems with their families, colleagues or teachers, problems related to absenteeism, health, money or

life in general, students could become more vulnerable because the way they perceive examinations is

much changed. By developing programmes to help the students understand the role of locus control in

their lives, they learn to better manage behaviours and beliefs. Academic evaluation can be “turned” from

event into a situation in which everybody can demonstrate the amount of knowledge acquired and how

well he or she can apply them.

1.2.Research Questions

1. Do examination periods generate a higher stress level in students?

2. Is there a correlation between locus of control (evaluated with Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale) and

stress level (evaluated with the Cohen and Williamson’s Scale)?

3. Are there gender differences in the students’ stress levels?

4. Are there significant gender differences in the locus of control?

1.3.Purpose of the Study

The goal of this paper is to establish the stress level of the students of the Faculty of Agriculture

(Banat’s University of Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine “King Michael I of Romania” from

Timisoara, Romania) who agreed to participate in the study during their examination sessions, to identify

locus of control and to intervene, in the students with an outer locus of control and with a high stress

level, with a stress management and locus of control change programme to prevent negative effects.

Stress is often the same in all students; what differs is interpretation.

The first objective of the research was to identify possible relationship between stress level and

locus of control in students. The second objective was to see if there are gender differences in stress level

and locus of control in the student respondents.

Research Methods

2.1. Description of the Research Sample

The research sample consisted in 83 students of four different years from the Faculty of

Agriculture of the Banat’s University of Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine “King Michael I

of Romania” from Timisoara, Romania; standard deviation was 1.028. The students major in “Land

Measurements and Cadastre” and “Agriculture”. There were 48.20% female students (40 subjects) and

51.80% male students (43 subjects); standard deviation was .503. Respondents’ age ranged between 21

and 34 years, with a mean age of 22.99 years and a standard deviation of 4.982. Depending on the

environment, 66.20% of the subjects (55 students) came from the urban area and 33.80% of the subjects

(28 students) came from the rural area, with a standard error of .475. All respondents were Caucasian. Research was carried out during the fall examination period of the academic year 2015-2016. The

sampling method was pseudo-random depending on the availability of the teachers examining the

students.

2.2. Description of the Research Instruments

The research instruments used in the study were the Locus of Control Scale (designed by Rotter in

1966) and the Perceived Stress Scale (designed by Cohen and Williamson in 1988). The participants

received a set of questionnaires that they filled in by hand.

2.2.1. Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale (1966)

Rotter (1966) defined locus of control in the Theory of Social Learning as enforcements, as basic

markers of long-term attitude in individuals. Locus of control is a vital concept in literature from the

perspective of helping and supporting students with learning and attitude difficulties. The concept of

“locus of control” also refers to and manages the situation according to which individuals analyse events

in their lives as a consequence of their actions or attitudes or as a result of chance, fate or exterior forces

(Erdogan, 2003).

Rotter’s Locus of Control Scale was used to operationalise the concept of control. It contains 29 items

with two response variants (a and b). Of the 29 items, six regard distraction of attention (a “filling” item

that gets no score). The 23 items taken into account for the evaluation of the locus of control force the

respondents (through the two response variants) choose between statements with inner or outer control

direction. From the point of view of fidelity coefficient, item correlation varies between .004 and .521,

depending on the item and on the gender of the respondents. Test-retest fidelity varies between .49 and

.83, and inner consistency varies between .65 and .79, depending on the subjects’ gender and on the

sample (Rotter, 1966, in Goyzman, 2010). High scores point to outer locus of control and low scores to

inner locus of control.

2.2.2. Cohen and Williamson’s Perceived Stress Scale (1988)

The Perceived Stress Scale translated and is a self-administered psychological instrument designed

to measure stress perception in individuals’ lives. It contains 14 items and it uses the five-stage (from A =

Never to E = Often) Likert Scale to analyse responses. The inner consistency of the scale is .82 (Lourel,

Gana and Wawrizyniak, 2005, in Preda, 2010). The scale is used to evaluate the stress level of individuals

aged 20+. According to the questionnaire suggestions, scores below 25 point to a low stress level and

scores above 50 point to a high stress level.

2.3. Description of Research Methods

In this research, we used descriptive statistics such as Pearson coefficient and correlation

coefficient to identify the power and direction of the two variables, and simple regression to find out the

effect of predictors on the two scales applied to the sample. We also used the t Test for pair samples to

evaluate the statistic relevance of the differences between the means of the score sets.

Findings

Research question 1: “Do examination periods generate a higher stress level in students?”

In this respect, we carried out a descriptive analysis to calculate scores on the Perceived Stress

Scale (Cohen and Williamson). The maximum score that can be obtained is 70 and the minimum is 14.

No student responded between the interval 50-70 corresponding to a high stress level. The score range

varied between 18 (a low stress level) and 49 (a medium stress level). Most respondents (89.15%) ranged

within the medium stress level, with a maximum concentration within the interval 31-40 (53.01% of the

respondents); 10.84% of the subjects ranged within the low stress level range.

These results contradict the results of other authors who claim a high stress level during

examinations, in general (Wilkinson, 1975; Robu, 2011; Mihăilescu et al., 2011) and during examinations

in technical universities, in particular (Balgiu, 2014).

Research question 2: “Is there a correlation between locus of control (evaluated with Rotter’s

Locus of Control Scale) and stress level (evaluated with the Cohen and Williamson’s Perceived Stress

Scale)?”

As for dividing the students depending on the type of control (inner – I or outer – O) as a result of

the Locus of control Scale, 19.27% (16 subjects) got a score as outer, 54.21% (45 subjects) got a score as

inner, and 26.5% (22 subjects) got neutral (medium) scores. These results support, on the one hand, the

low scores on the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen and Williamson); however, a percentage of about

20.00% subjects that have outer locus of control contradict literature (Coşa, 2015) or can be explained by

the self-protection generated by defensive externality (Băban, 2005).

Students with inner locus of control and that choose to become teachers have a rational way of

making decisions (Wilson, 1982), which can explain the low scores in stress level during examinations; at

the same time, it can reflect a good management of the examination period, part of the respondents

enrolling for the Level I of the psychological and pedagogical training programme.

We then used descriptive statistics obtaining a statistically significant positive correlation of .258

(p < 0.05) between total score on Perceived Stress Scale and total score on Locus of control Scale. Thus, Data indicate that these predictors have significant on CW. Gender has more effect than other

independent variables. Gender effect is 0.48. Environment effect is -0.013. Years of study effect is -0,197.

Environment and years of study effect are negative on LOC even if it is not significant.

Conclusions

Being a student is a stage in an individual’s life when he/she acquires theoretical knowledge and

practical skills related to his/her future profession and a lot of experience in stress management, social

relationships (with colleagues, teachers) and career. Depending on one’s personality, students adapt, plan

and learn differently. Evaluating students supposes, first, making students aware about how much they

know, how well they have understood and how far or close they are to their goals. Evaluation affects not

only students but also teachers who have the opportunity to realise how effective teaching was.

Though literature claims that, during examinations, students are more vulnerable emotionally (they

have a higher stress level), the results of our study show that, in the case of our respondents, stress level is

medium, normal for individuals undergoing activities that need attention, memory, etc. Analysing data

pointed out that there is a positive correlation between locus of control and stress level. This needs to be

taken into account by teachers and counsellors of universities if they wish to help students have inner

control and manage stress better, with fewer negative consequences on both health and performance.

There are no significant gender differences in stress level and locus of control. The t-test analysis

identified that female students felt more irritated and less in control than male students a month after they

filled in the scales, with differences only in two items of the Perceived Stress Scale.

Acknowledgements

I thank all the students who agreed to participate in the research and spent part of their time filling

in the questionnaires necessary for this study. I also thank all teachers who allowed their students to fill in

the scales evaluating stress level and locus of control before the academic evaluation.

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Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.151

Online ISSN

2357-1330