Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools (ACS-S)

The Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools is an evidence-based questionnaire designed to support young people identify their coping behaviours and develop problem-solving strategies to manage difficult situations productively. The Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools questionnaire is primarily intended for use in schools with adolescents between 12 and 18 years of age.

ACS-S has been adapted from the Adolescent Coping Scale Second Edition (ACS-2) for use in a school context.

The following topics are covered in this article:


The Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools has been developed to support adolescents' social and emotional development within the existing Australian Curriculum framework. Students can obtain information about their coping styles and develop insight into the frequency and helpfulness of productive and non-productive coping strategies. Students use their coping profile to identify ways in which they cope with their problems. This information provides crucial insights into what stressors affect adolescents, how they manage their resources in responding, and the basis for understanding both student and group behaviour.

The Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools asks students to rate the usage (frequency) of several coping strategies and the helpfulness of those strategies. The ACS-S reliably assesses 20 conceptually and empirically distinct coping styles. The questionnaire comprises 60 items and provides scores on each of the 20 coping strategies, with 3 items per scale. It provides an accurate measure and profile of a student’s coping style. The ACS-S questionnaire is suited to and online delivery to students and the completion time is approximately 20 minutes.

The ACS-S allows a choice of the following to be addressed:

  • General coping: how the student copes with various general concerns or problems.

  • Specific coping: how the student copes with a specific issue of concern, such as schoolwork or friendships.

For each item, students are asked to respond on two different aspects:

  • Usage: how often each of the coping strategies described in the items provided are used by the respondent; and
  • Helpfulness: an evaluation of how helpful the strategy was perceived to be when it was used.

When to administer

The ACS-S can be completed multiple times. If administered twice within 10 days to two weeks, it is likely to assess the reliability of the instrument rather than a change in coping response. When a coping skills program is implemented, it is generally recommended that the ACS-S be completed pre- and post-program.

Completing the questionnaire on two separate occasions, focusing once on a Specific concern and the other on General concerns, may be valuable in allowing students to compare their use of coping strategies in general to their use in relation to a particular concern.

Some suggested ways of using ACS-S at your school:

  • as a universal screening tool for large populations of students
  • as a means to track and support student’s wellbeing over time, for example in years 7, 9 and 11
  • in a group setting to gather group data to facilitate conversations about coping
  • as a tool to help students assess, reflect on, and then develop their own coping and problem-solving skills
  • to assess coping responses to concerns in general or for a specific nominated concern (e.g. relationships), so discussion can follow about coping in general compared with strategies used to cope with a particular stressor.

Administering the questionnaire

Download: Administration Instructions - ACS-S


The following steps need to be completed ahead of time:

  • Check the technical requirements and run the browser exam from a student device to identify any potential technical issues.
  • Schedule your questionnaire date and time.
  • Ensure that all students are listed within your school's online assessment account and have been assigned the necessary questionnaire.
  • Download or print a list of your students' login details.
  • Make note of your school's online assessment login page, or make sure that the URL is saved on student devices, or available to your students as a link. The address will be similar to


After assigning the ACS-S questionnaire to students, you will need to decide on your intended focus, which will determine how students are instructed to think about and respond to the questionnaire questions:

  • For General Coping, when responding to each question, students should consider how they cope in general.
  • For Specific Coping, when responding to each question, students should consider how they cope in relation to the particular issue of concern they have identified.

After opening the questionnaire, students will be required to select General, or to nominate their Specific concern.


On each page of the questionnaire, students must record a rating of each coping method's usage and helpfulness before progressing to the next page.

For a given coping strategy, if a student chooses ‘Never’ on the Usage scale, they should choose ‘Never’ on the Helpfulness scale.

Student responses are automatically saved each time they navigate to another page.

If technical problems cause the need to postpone the completion of the questionnaires, students may close the browser without losing their progress.

iPads and tablet devices must be held in landscape orientation.

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Using the results

When interpreting the results of the ACS-S, it is important to emphasise the self-regulatory nature of coping. Results of the questionnaire can be used to develop students' self-awareness, which is a precursor to self-regulation. The opportunity should be created for students to learn about themselves, to contribute to improved problem-solving skills and better overall coping, even during difficult situations.

A comprehensive picture of student coping profile is valuable and can be used as a framework for to better understand their own coping behaviour, and subsequently to make self-initiated changes—that is, any changes that they think are necessary. For example, the program The Best of Coping (Frydenberg & Brandon, 2007) is a good next step in teaching adolescents productive coping skills. The skills taught in that program are closely linked to the coping skills mentioned in the ACS-S.

Students should be encouraged to reflect upon the coping strategies they use frequently and infrequently, and how helpful they perceive the strategies to be. Coping strategies that are frequently used, although never helpful, need to be reviewed to see if either the usage can be decreased or the way it is used can be modified to increase its helpfulness. If the strategy is a non-productive one and it is considered by the student to be helpful, it will be more challenging to get the student to reflect and reduce the strategy usage. Any strategy that is rarely used although very helpful should also be discussed with a view to reflecting on why it is helpful. If it is helpful, then ways of increasing its usage could be discussed. In addition, the pattern of usage of coping strategies can be compared for specific concerns (nominated by the student) and for concerns in general.

Encourage the student to consider the frequency of usage and the effectiveness of the coping strategies they have used. The relevant consideration is whether the strategy is effective and, therefore, whether the frequency of use should be increased. This is a worthwhile endeavour if the strategy is a productive one. If the strategy is a non-productive one but is considered by the student to be helpful, it will be more challenging to get the student to reduce the use of this strategy.

To promote students’ reflection and evaluation of their own coping style, they can be led through a discussion that focuses on a series of questions. The process may take the form of a whole class discussion, small-group work, buzz sessions with pairs of students, or individual work. The following questions may be used to stimulate discussion:

  1. What strategies do you use very often? What strategies do you use infrequently?
  2. Are there any differences in the ways you cope with your nominated concern and concerns in general?
  3. Are you surprised? If there are differences, why do you think they differ?
  4. Would you like to make some changes to the way you cope? If so, what? If not, why not?
  5. What have you discovered about the way in which you cope with your nominated concern?
  6. Do you use some strategies very often even if they are not helpful? If so, why? How would you like to change that?
  7. Do you use some strategies only sometimes even if they are helpful? If so, why? How would you like to change that?

Discussions that build upon students’ answers to these questions can lead to a consideration of which coping responses are most frequently used and seen as effective. Similarly, there should be equal consideration of which strategies are less frequently utilised and less effective. Such knowledge can assist students to explore and understand the reasons they would continue to use strategies that have been personally unhelpful, and to begin the process of reducing their reliance on such strategies and increase the use of more productive strategies. The benefits of this process – and programs designed to enhance and reinforce it – are far-reaching, ranging from gains in wellbeing and social connectedness to improved academic and personal outcomes. It is possible to engage students in discussion through the use of their individual coping profile, or a group profile for the class or for a subgroup within the class (for example, girls and boys). Coping skills awareness and training can be taken further by using a coping skills program. Several evaluated programs have been developed that draw on the conceptual framework of the Adolescent Coping Scale for Schools and good social and emotional skill-development practice. The Best of Coping (Frydenberg & Brandon, 2007) has been developed as a pencil-and-paper set of activities that has a Facilitator’s Guide and a Student Workbook.

Confidentiality and privacy

The use of the ACS-S should be determined by appropriate school executives and class teachers. Consent for the ACS-S questionnaire use should be in line with school policy and procedures, and in accordance with other similar wellbeing questionnaires. It is helpful to provide students and parents with relevant information about the ACS-S questionnaire and its use. Informed consent by the students is important when information is being collected and shared with other students and teachers in group discussions. Information from reports should be appropriately stored and managed in line with school privacy policy.

Background and more information about ACS-S

Adolescence is a period in life that involves a series of significant challenges, including a range of physiological changes and developmental hurdles. The physiological changes that accompany adolescence impact on the developmental obstacles that arise simultaneously: cognitive, emotional, and physiological maturation impact changes in peer relationships, the development of personal agency and the shift towards social independence. It is also a time of life when adolescents are expected to meet the requirements of more intensive schooling and future career decisions. Each of the aspects of adolescent development can result in stress and is dependent on the development of sufficient coping skills for this period to be managed, and for the stressors to be overcome successfully. The development of a repertoire of coping skills is fundamental for an adolescent to weather the changes occurring in their lives, and to avoid the consequences that can stem from stressors associated with issues such as family conflict and social isolation, risk-taking and self-destructive behaviours. Yet stress can be viewed as a normal part of life, resulting as it does from an imbalance between an individual’s perception of the demands placed upon him or her and of the resources, they have available to cope with those demands.

Despite stress being normal, an inability to cope can lead to a range of difficult outcomes. There are events that cause minor concerns requiring minimal forms of adjustment, those that can be both overwhelming and disabling, and those that, in the extreme, can lead to severe distress. Adolescence cannot be removed from the wider social context in which stress occurs. A reciprocal relationship exists between individuals and the community in which they reside, one that involves extensive social and emotional interconnections. Inadequate coping has consequences that extend beyond individuals to affect their families, peers, and community. Hence, extensive interest surrounds the issue of adolescent coping. To become competent adults and able to cope effectively with stresses and concerns, it is helpful for adolescents to become more aware of their own coping behaviours through reflection, and to modify their coping as necessary. Such reflection may extend beyond the idiosyncratic characteristics of individuals, to include wider coping ‘styles’ that systematically relate to characteristics such as the type of concern, the adolescence’s age, ethnicity, and gender. Yet, up until relatively recently, how adolescents cope with stresses had been examined from an adult-centric orientation. Over the past several decades there have been attempts to develop instruments that more accurately reflect specific adolescent coping behaviour. 

The patterns of coping that are formed during adolescence have a significant influence on how students may cope as they move into adulthood and, as a result, can have extensive familial and social impact. The role of schools, as a critical environment for adolescent socialisation, can therefore become vital in supporting the health and psychological wellbeing of the young. Schools are able to do this through both general curriculum inputs and instruction, and specific educational and social support programs such as those developed within the positive psychology movement.

In constructing the ACS-S, the main objective was to develop a measure of coping that facilitates the development of adolescent psychosocial competence, by enabling its measurement through reference to basic coping strategies such as worry or self-blame. The frequency with which these strategies are used and how helpful they are enable descriptions of individuals’ and groups’ coping behaviour. As a result, it provides the data that can be used to enable personal development or self-improvement in coping.

In developing such a construct, it has become apparent that adolescent coping needs to be primarily conceptualised in terms of adolescent responses to a particular concern; for example, maintaining good relationships with family members, doing well at school or work, or worrying about the environment. Nevertheless, there will be times when the young person’s general style of coping with most situations (General) will be of greater interest than the way in which their style is modified to cope with a particular type of concern (Specific). That is, how one copes in general may be somewhat different to how one copes in a particular stressful situation, such as when relationship difficulties occur. Identifying the coping resources that an individual has in a general situation may help them to draw upon those strategies that may be helpful in a particular situation, but which to date have not been used to deal with a particular concern.

The conceptual areas of coping

The 20 coping strategies of ACS-S are listed below, with a brief description of each conceptual area covered by the strategy and an example of a coping action indicative of that area.

Productive coping

  • Social Support: Sharing the problem with others and enlisting support in its management, e.g. Look for support and encouragement from others.
  • Focus on Solving the Problem: Reflecting on the problem, planning solutions and tackling the problem systematically, e.g. Work out a way of dealing with the problem.
  • Physical Recreation: Playing sport and keeping fit, e.g. Keep fit and healthy—for example, play sport.
  • Seek Relaxing Diversions: Engaging in general leisure activities (not sport) either alone or with others, e.g. Relax—for example, watch TV, play computer games, go for a walk.
  • Invest in Close Friends: Engaging in a particular intimate relationship, e.g. Spend more time with boy/girlfriend.
  • Work Hard and Achieve: Having commitment, ambition and industry, e.g. Work hard.
  • Focus on the Positive: Maintaining a positive and cheerful outlook on the current situation, e.g. Look on the bright side of things and think of all that is good.
  • Accept One’s Best Efforts: Accepting one’s best efforts and that there is nothing further to be done, e.g. Accept things as they are, because I’ve done my best.
  • Social Action: Letting others know what is of concern and enlisting support by organising an activity, e.g. Join with others to deal with the problem—for example, organise a petition, attend a meeting.
  • Seek Professional Help: Using a professional adviser, such as a counsellor, e.g. Ask a teacher or professional person for help.

Non-productive coping

  • Worry: Being concerned about the future in general terms and with happiness in the future, e.g. Worry about what will happen to me.
  • Wishful Thinking: Hoping and anticipating a positive outcome, e.g. Wish a miracle would happen to make things turn out well.
  • Not Coping: Being unable to deal with the problem and developing psychosomatic symptoms, e.g. Get sick.
  • Tension Reduction: Making oneself feel better by releasing tension, e.g. Find a way to let off steam—for example, cry, scream, drink, take drugs.
  • Ignore the Problem: Consciously blocking out the problem and resignation, e.g. Shut myself off from the problem so I can avoid it.
  • Keep to Self: Withdrawing from others and desiring to keep others from knowing about concerns, e.g. Don’t let others know about my problem.
  • Self-Blame: Criticising oneself for being responsible for the concern or worry, e.g. Blame myself.
  • Act Up: Making oneself feel better by damaging things or being a nuisance, e.g. Act up and make life difficult for those around me.

Other coping styles

  • Humour: Being funny as a diversion, e.g. Try to be funny.
  • Seek Spiritual Support: Praying and seeking the assistance of a spiritual leader or God, e.g. Pray for God to look after me.

Supporting documents

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