4 MIN READ | General

4 Causes of Procrastination Among Students: The Psychology of Excuses

Jason Smith

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Procrastination is a well-known phenomenon in the academic environment, but most of the time the only ones concerned about this issue are the teachers. The vast majority of procrastinating students not only delay their academic duties but also transform procrastination into a joking matter and postpone their home chores, as well as work duties.

A survey of Psychiatric Association has revealed that: that:

  • 60% of procrastinators are male students;
  • most of the learners procrastinate on their 2nd–3rd year of studying;
  • procrastination sometimes goes along with psychiatric diagnoses including obsessive compulsive disorder, malingering, and generalised anxiety disorder

Postponing, ignoring, or simply refusing to complete academic tasks is one of the main reasons for bad marks and low performance. While this behaviour may not have severe consequences, if you do so for a couple of days, it may lead to bad academic results and a negative career path in the long term.

Apart from this, procrastination is a predominant cause of bad reputation among teachers and peers, which is almost always connected to low self-esteem. Once the tutors notice the student’s tendency to fail in completing academic tasks, the student feels ostracised in front of their colleagues which, unfortunately, rarely motivates to make changes. But what are the reasons behind procrastination?

Fear of failure and control loss

One of the most fundamental roots of behavioural procrastination that touches upon both academic performance and home duties is the fear of failure. Students are, very often, under a lot of pressure at their educational institutions. They are reminded how important it is to get high marks at all times, and inevitably most of the students have a number of subjects that they are not proficient or merely not interested in. Instead of trying to cope with their assignments, students get used to pushing the task to the back of their minds for as long as possible.

  • As a student: A simple way to overcome procrastination that is caused by the fear of failure is to focus on the things that you can do, instead of the things that you can’t. Even if it seems like there’s no chance to succeed with the task within the given period, do not give up. Ask your group mates for help or ask Google. You’d be surprised, but you can find examples of lab reports, literature review examples, and even annotated bibliography samples. Believe in yourself and do as much as you can instead of thinking about the possibility of failure.
  • As a teacher: This type of students may be easily discouraged by failure, therefore it may be a good idea to increase their self-esteem by mentioning often their accomplishments. At the same time, the idea of failure should be approached carefully. Instead of putting the blame on the student, focus on explaining what are the things that did not work well, and how can the student improve his work in the future. No matter how good or bad the student’s work is, a positive element should always be mentioned.

Not managing evaluation anxiety

Evaluation anxiety is yet another reason to consider when procrastination comes in a discussion. Researchers explain that when students feel insecure about their knowledge, they tend to avoid completing tasks entirely in order to escape any evaluation of their performance. The students in this position are afraid of discovering how good or bad they are primarily because they tend to underestimate themselves.

  • As a student: Very often you may feel that not knowing your level is better than knowing that you belong to a group of weak students. To overcome this issue, it is recommended to get comfortable with the idea that knowledge is necessary in order to evolve. It is possible to improve your marks on any topic, as long as you take the courage to evaluate what you know and work on what you have to improve.
  • As a teacher: Since these students are afraid of knowing that they are not knowledgeable enough, it is recommended to prevent emphasising their lack of knowledge. Instead, it may be a good idea to provide them with easy-to-understand materials that can help the students improve their level.

Low self-esteem and lack of confidence

The two causes mentioned above are closely connected to another cause of procrastination: lack of self-confidence. A student with little or no self-confidence is at higher risk of procrastinating compared to students who have high self-confidence.

  • As a student: There are times in life, especially during the teenage years, when you don’t feel comfortable with who you are. While this feeling may go away in the next years, the way you perform now as a student may influence a big part of your life. To avoid procrastinating because of low self-esteem, focus on small tasks that you can complete, instead of thinking about a difficult project that you need to start. Divide your work into smaller tasks and you will have a sense of achievement every time you complete a small part of your project.
  • As a teacher: One of the things that this type of student needs the most is encouragement and acceptance. Demanding an explanation for the lack of punctuality will only push the student further and increase the lack of self-esteem. Accentuating his accomplishments, as well as emphasising the trust that you have in his abilities, may help him evolve. Also, using formulas such as: ‘I couldn’t help but notice that you have talent in writing/art/drawing/telling stories’ could be very useful.

Withstanding the pressure of society

Naturally, rebellion against control is also a very common cause of procrastination among teenagers. There are many students who postpone or ignore completing a task not because they believe they can’t complete it, but because they don’t feel comfortable with the idea of not having control over their own time. This type of students tends to have problems with authority and to perform better in circumstances where they have control over their activities.

  • As a student: Not feeling comfortable with authority is not uncommon, but procrastinating may seriously change the path of your future career. In order to prevent feeling controlled by your teachers while performing your tasks, try embracing the idea that you are doing it for yourself and for your future. Your teachers will not be affected in any way by your performance – you are in control of completing your tasks, and you are responsible for the path that you will follow in the future.
  • As a teacher: When a student does not feel comfortable with authority, it is recommended to avoid asking him to complete a task in a patronising way. Instead, it is better to ask him to complete the task in a relaxed manner and, more importantly, to ask for his opinion regarding this specific task. Even more than this, the student may feel more comfortable is he is in control of choosing the topic, the title or the way he presents his assignment.

Jason Smith did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being. 


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