Learning Styles and Approach versus Avoidant Coping during Academic Exam Preparation

Article excerpt

This study investigated the association between several styles of learning as measured by the Inventory of Learning Processes - Revised (ILP-R), and approach coping assessed with a revised, 9-item version of the Ways of Coping Questionnaire. From a university student sample, 74 participants' (30 male, 44 female) self-reported approach coping in the context of preparing for an academic exam was associated with thoughtful learning, motivation, agentic style, and self-efficacy scores on the ILP-R, but not with literal memorization. Results support the theory that thoughtful learners are more likely to employ approach coping strategies during test preparation, and that shallow processors' tendency to remain cognitively detached from course material extends to their preparation for exams.


The present study examined relationships between students' self-reported learning styles and self-reported avoidant versus approach styles of coping with stress. This was done in the context of preparing for academic examinations. Of course, the relationships (correlation coefficients) revealed in this manner indicate nothing regarding causality, but the authors hope to subsequently test the specific hypothesis that habitual avoidance of unpleasant emotion associated with impending academic examinations places limitations upon the range of learning strategies available to a student.

Approach coping strategies tend to focus directly on the stressful problem, for example preparing to pass an academic examination. In contrast, avoidant coping styles tend to involve management of attention and perception in an effort to reduce negative emotion. One model of avoidance is Holzman and Gardner's (1959) "leveling" (vs. sharpening), which involves overlooking perceptual distinctions among stimuli in order to reduce stress. Miller's (1987) "blunting" (vs. monitoring) similarly involves focusing attention on stimuli other than the actual stressor. Likewise, Byrne's (1964) "repression" (vs. sensitization) involves avoiding the perception of both the actual threatening stimulus and its memory. All of these avoidant strategies would seem to interfere with preparation for an academic examination. The question asked in the present study was what learning strategies are available to students who are habitually using approach or avoidant strategies of dealing with stress.


A sample of introductory psychology students at a large midwestern university completed assessments of coping and learning styles. The mean age of the 30 male and 44 female participants was 19.7 years.

Nine items from the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988) were scored so as to yield a single coping score with high scores indicating approach and low scores indicating avoidance. Twenty-nine items had been initially selected based on their content validity for the present study, and ultimately reduced to nine approach-avoidance items via a factor analysis. In order to contextualize the questions, participants first filled out a detailed description of a recent academic examination and then responded to the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (in the copyrighted format) while referring to the academic examination they had just described.

Learning style was assessed via the Inventory of Learning Processes (Schmeck & Geisler-Brenstein, 1995) which provides scores on 17 different dimensions of learning style including efficacy, motivation, and cognitive process dimensions (see Geisler-Brenstein & Schmeck, 1996).

Results and Discussion

Table 1 summarizes the relationships between approach-avoidance coping and the various dimensions of learning style. The mean score for the Approach-Avoidance Coping (ApAv) was 24.23 (SD = 4.56), which is equivalent to participants reporting that they use approach strategies between "Used somewhat" and "Quite a bit". …


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