Previous work has examined how messages communicated to students prior to high-stakes exams, that emphasise the importance of avoiding failure for subsequent life trajectory, may be appraised as threatening. In two studies, we extended this work to examine how students may also appraise such messages as challenging or disregard them as being of little relevance. In study one we piloted a questionnaire with students studying for their school leaving qualification in maths. Threat appraisals were correlated with low academic self-efficacy, high attainment value and low intrinsic value. Challenge appraisals were correlated with high academic self-efficacy, and high intrinsic, extrinsic and attainment value. In study two, we manipulated attainment value and academic self-efficacy in a series of vignettes. High value and high academic self-efficacy lead to challenge appraisals, high value but low academic self-efficacy lead to threat appraisals and low value lead to a disregarding of messages. These findings show that the relevance of messages is judged on attainment value in a primary appraisal and as a challenge or threat in a subsequent appraisal, based on the expectation of success or failure. These findings also highlight how the effectiveness of such messages may differ depending on student characteristics.