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Proctoring: How to Overcome Technostress

Six tips from an HSE psychologist

© Daniil Prokofyev

HSE students are preparing to take their first remote exams. Exams in many disciplines will be held on new platforms. We asked psychologist Maria Shvets to share some tips on how to cope with the stress caused by the technical features of these new remote exams.

Maria Shvets
Psychologist, Centre for Psychological Counselling

For HSE students, exams can cause great intellectual and emotional stress. This period of time requires a lot of mental resources, and the current situation whereby they have to pass exams remotely is brand-new for the vast majority of our students.

Even if we have taken exams many times, our mind still intensely reacts to stress, and the new format for exams is an unknown situation. It can cause anxiety, provoke thinking of negative scenarios, and, in the worst cases, it can negatively affect the process of taking tests.

What is technostress?

Technostress is a concept that includes a wide group of negative interactions between people and modern technologies. In the case of taking remote exams and changing the control procedure, we are dealing with the problem of students adapting to this format of testing.

Students may feel unsure of how to deal with the way in which the exam is organised; fear that they may not have enough time to solve the task, or worry that there may be technical problems with the Internet or computer, which will make it impossible to continue the exam. In addition, the system of monitoring and control, in which students do not see the invigilator, can cause strong emotional stress.

In this communication system, the student might also worry about feedback on their behavior: will it be interpreted as a violation of the exam procedure? There may be fears that the new format will affect the content and complexity of the exam itself. The issue of information security and confidentiality of the student's identity during the exam is also important.

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What to do if you are worrying

It’s impossible to control the failure of technical devices, like all other unpleasant scenarios. Psychologically, the most difficult thing in remote exams is delegating control to a technical device.

When using proctoring, the advantage may be that the control system can’t evaluate how ‘honestly’ you are working, it only gives the operator a signal that your attention has not been focused on the task for a long time. During regular exams the algorithm for checking the tasks is the same, and it is important to keep this in mind.

The situation is interpreted by a human operator who is an impartial person, whose only task is to assess possible violations and who is not interested in affecting your performance.

Technical failures are not your fault

In these circumstances, it is important to understand that problems and failures may not be your fault. It is important to inform the exam organizers about such incidents if they can't figure it out on their own.

The more you imagine that this situation does not differ from standard exams and is just a test of your current knowledge, the more comfortable you will feel.

To avoid confusion during the exam, try to get acquainted with the system that you will work with, calculate how much time you will need to complete the tasks, and whether it can be optimized in advance. The more you know about the programme, the more confident you will feel during the exam.

Prepare your room

Try to set up a comfortable workplace. Remove the things that might distract you. Taking the exam at home can be easier and more comfortable, because the environment is perceived as safe. However, ask your neighbors and relatives to pay attention to your comfort during the exam hours, making sure that they don’t disturb you or make noise.  Prepare technical equipment for the exam in advance.

Mindfulness during preparation for the exam will help you regain a sense of control and self-competence in a stressful situation.

Tune in to work

A positive attitude before the exam is important. If you set yourself against the system and see the procedure and operator as hostile sources, you are more likely to react aggressively to possible technical difficulties, proctor's comments, or your own anxiety.

Before the exam, take care of your basic needs. It is important to get a good night's sleep, have breakfast, and perhaps take a walk or stretch your muscles, since you will be sitting in front of the monitor for a long time during the exam.

Focus on tasks, not control

During the exam, try to focus your attention on the tasks, rather than on the environment or your behavior. Being involved in the process will help you to focus on the task and could even allow you to forget that you are being tested.

It is also important not to focus on the desired result: this can increase anxiety and lead to a feeling of powerlessness if you realize that you cannot cope with the task. If something doesn't work the first time, start with the things that you are sure you can do, and then go back to the more difficult questions.

What to do in case of technical problems

If you realize that you can't continue with the exam, because something is wrong with the system, or an error has occurred, try not to blame yourself and not to catastrophize the situation.

An unsatisfactory grade or postponement of the exam to another date does not say anything about your qualities and abilities. This is an experience that you can use to understand your strengths and weaknesses, allow yourself to not always ‘be on top’ and accept both your limitations and the limitations of the system. In such difficult moments, it’s important to remember how you managed to overcome situations of failure in the past, to support yourself, and to encourage yourself in your efforts.

Express your feelings

If you feel strong anxiety or worry about the result after completing the exam, it’s important for you to express these feelings: you can tell your family about them, or discuss the difficulties that your classmates faced. However, it is also important to be able to complete the process and return to reality, determining where the border between study and examination ends and normal life starts.

June 15, 2020