Individual differences in coping style

Some students find it harder to cope with the demands of learning than others, yet all at some point will find themselves attempting to cope with one demand or another and, more often, multiple demands at the same time. This is, of course, normal and is seen in life generally (as in the case with daily hassles). Nevertheless, competing deadlines, disappointing marks on a test and other related events can have a cumulative effect, leading eventually to possible academic underachievement and potentially to an exacerbation of underlying psychological problems. Just like daily hassles, these events can have wider consequences to general wellbeing and mental health in more extreme circumstances.

Some students always appear to be behind on their work, they miss deadlines, fail to take notice of written and verbal feedback and are always in a state of perpetual chaos. This is often more acute in the case of older students who have found themselves with increased free time. Many of my own students would fall into this category. While some would keep their work, notes and hand-outs organised in specially purchased folders, others would keep an assortment of sheets stuffed into the bottom of bags where they shared space with other subjects. I would often sit down with these students, provide them with a folder, allow them time to organise their work and then check on their progress a few days later. The short period of hand-holding, so to speak, was necessary in the attempt to initiate adaptive behaviours, later reinforced through subtle nudges like regular folder checks.

These disorganised students were also the ones who struggled to meet deadlines and underachieved on assessments. Their lack of organisation and planning made it more difficult for them to cope with even minor setbacks because their lack of organisation had simply created obstacle after obstacle. Before they could even start revising they first needed to organise notes and carry out other types of housekeeping, which increased procrastination and ate into their time. Bouncing back requires us to remain on top of the small stuff, because if we don't, it eventually exacerbates the big stuff.

From resilience to buoyancy

Academic buoyancy is, therefore, potentially more relevant than the classical definition of resilience and its associated research base. It also requires us to concentrate on the skills required to help us remain on a relatively even keel. Nevertheless, there is a reciprocal relationship between the two, in that resilience feeds buoyancy and vice versa. Martin's research (see Box 3.2) confirms that the two are certainly structurally different, and includes both differences of degree and differences of kind, such as threats to confidence and dips in motivation (Martin, 2013). They also produce different measurable outcomes (Table 3.1).

Box 3.2 Resilience and buoyancy as different constructs

In an attempt to identify conceptual difference between resilience and academic buoyancy, Andrew Martin recruited a total of 918 Australian high school students who completed two questionnaires

Questionnaire 1: The Academic Risk and Resilience Scale (ARRS) a standard scale used in resilience research.

Questionnaire 2: The Academic Buoyancy Scale (ABS) a scale designed to measure levels of academic specific resilience. The ABS consists of four items rated on a scale of 1 to 7. These question are:

  • 1. I am good at dealing with setbacks (e.g. bad marks, negative feedback on my work).
  • 2. I don't let study stress get on top of me.
  • 3. I think I'm good at dealing with school pressure.
  • 4. I don't let a bad mark affect my confidence.

Statistical analysis revealed:

  • • Buoyancy is different from resilience
  • • There is some overlap between buoyancy and resilience
  • • Academic buoyancy is more salient in predicting the impact of low- level negative outcomes.
  • • Resilience predicts major negative outcomes.


Tests used to measure resilience won't tell us very much about how students cope with low-level problems in their daily lives, so shouldn't be used as a measure of minor academic adversity and the ability to bounce back from it.

(Martin, 2013)

Table 3.1 Differences between resilience and academic buoyancy


Academic buoyancy

  • • Chronic underachievement
  • • Being overwhelmed and incapacitated
  • • Debilitation in the face of chronic failure and anxiety
  • • Clinical affect such as anxiety and depression
  • • Disaffection and truancy from school
  • • Comprehensive and consistent alienation from school or opposition to teachers
  • • The process of dealing with isolated poor grades
  • • The process of dealing with patches of poor performance
  • • Typical stress levels and daily pressure
  • • Threats to confidence due to poor grades
  • • Low-level stress and confidence
  • • Dips in motivation and engagement
  • • The process of dealing with negative feedback
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