Threats of failure motivate some students – but it’s not a technique to use on the whole class


Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle (specialist)


It is the start of a new academic year, and a fresh group of students will be beginning study towards their GCSEs. After two years, they will be taking exams with important consequences: the results can allow them to carry on in education or go on to certain careers.

Part of the work of teachers is to encourage their students to pay attention and fully engage in lessons so that they achieve the best grades possible. They might emphasise to them how important GCSEs are for their future. For example, teachers might point out how good grades can lead to access to college courses, apprenticeships, and the workplace.

And in dwelling on the importance of GCSEs, teachers may also use messages that focus on the possible negative effects of failure. These include things like: “If you do not work hard, you will fail your GCSEs and you will not get into college.”

We researched how students interpret these motivational strategies from their teachers and found that while warnings of failure are likely to encourage some pupils to work hard, it’s not a message that should be delivered to the whole class.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2023


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