Levels of distress, which include stress, depression, and anxiety, are often heightened during the final year of secondary school and have been linked to major examinations that occur during this time period. However, relatively little is known about how these symptoms change over the course of the year or what moderates symptom severity. Using a longitudinal survey design, we tracked student outcomes and potential moderators (i.e., gender, test anxiety, self-efficacy, connectedness with peers, school and family, perceived use of fear appeals by teachers) associated with stress, depression, and anxiety once per term (i.e., 4 times total) over the final year of high school in seven Australian high schools. We hypothesised that student symptoms would increase over time and that symptom severity would be moderated by individual and environmental factors. Six hundred and thirty-eight unique students (M age = 16.95 years, SD = 0.56, range = 15–18 years, female = 474 [74.29%]) participated in at least one of the four surveys administered during each term of the final year of high school. Linear mixed models indicated that stress (d = 0.2) and anxiety (d = 1.7) increased over time. When all potential moderators of distress were entered into the full model, gender, test anxiety, emotional self-efficacy, and peer connectedness were all significant unique predictors of stress. Similar patterns were found for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Time 3 stress was predicted by unique variance in baseline stress, higher test anxiety, and academic self-efficacy. Overall distress increased over time and was moderated by gender, as well as by test anxiety, self-efficacy, and peer connectedness, which are areas that can then be targeted by interventions designed to maintain distress at optimum levels for wellbeing and academic performance.
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- student stress
- anxiety, depression, secondary school
- test anxiety
- high stakes testing