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How to overcome exam anxiety?

The purpose of this article is to provide some insight into why exam anxiety exists and more importantly to share some methods for counteracting exam anxiety.

Exam anxiety can occur for many and varied reasons.

How to overcome exam anxiety?

For the purposes of this article we are not looking at exam anxiety caused by inadequate preparation for an exam.

Our focus is the exam anxiety experienced by a student who

  • ·        has attended classes,
  • ·        has developed effective study skills,
  • ·        is genuinely confident in their knowledge of the material

but does not demonstrate what they know on exams.

Exam writing is a stressful activity.  The goal is to maintain an optimum level of stress.  Too little stress is not desirable, nor is too much stress.  Optimum stress actually promotes success.

Exam anxiety is an example of too much stress.

How to overcome exam anxiety?

Exam anxiety can be defined as:

  • ·        excessive worry about upcoming exams
  • ·        fear of being evaluated
  • ·        apprehension about the consequences of writing the exam

Exam anxiety is:

  • ·        experienced by many college students
  • ·        manageable

Symptoms of Exam anxiety can include:

  • ·        sweaty palms, shortness of breath, racing heart
  • ·        difficulty concentrating and organizing thoughts
  • ·        difficulty physically focusing on the words
  • ·        feeling of panic, confusion
  • ·        nausea and/or fainting
  • ·        negative self-thoughts e.g “I can’t even remember the stuff I know”
  • ·        mind going blank (even on material you know well)
  • ·        can’t understand exam questions
  • ·        correct recall after the exam

Many dynamics contribute to exam anxiety.

Some of those dynamics include:

  • ·        fear of failure, success, the future, and the reactions of others e.g. family
  • ·        unhealthy academic self-esteem, lack of confidence, unrealistic expectations of self (e.g. academic goals set too high)
  • ·        high stress levels, depression, not feeling supported in your educational pursuits (by loved ones), negative and irrational thinking and habitual worry.
  • ·        financial pressures (from family or financial sponsor)
  • ·        family/relationship pressures (e.g. “everyone is counting on me…”)
  • ·        time or age pressures (e.g. “this is the last chance for me to make a better life for myself and my family”)
  • ·        health issues such as illness, inadequate sleep, nutrition and sleep, consumption of coffee, alcohol or drugs
  • ·        lack of recreation or social time

What can you do to reduce exam anxiety?
How to overcome exam anxiety?

  • ·        develop effective exam prep and writing techniques
  • ·        get adequate exercise, nutrition and rest
  • ·        reduce overall stress by deep breathing
  • ·        muscular relaxation- progressive tensing and relaxing of major muscles
  • ·        scan you body for stress- tell the muscles in this area to relax
  • ·        mental imagery- visualize an image that has a calming effect on you (use all your senses to create this image)
  • ·        identify and remove sources of anxiety
  • ·        practice thought control by planning a positive script
  • ·        praise yourself – be aware of how you talk to yourself in exams
  • ·        visualize success- create a detailed picture of what it will look like being successful (set positive expectations for yourself)
  • ·        practice thought stopping- say “stop” when thoughts begin racing
  • ·        manage external sources of stress
  • ·        keep the exam in perspective – an opportunity to show what you know
  • ·        daydream- flood your mind with pleasant thoughts
  • ·        focus on an object that calms you – describe it in detail
  • ·        describe it- don’t resist it, confront it by describing your anxiety in detail
  • ·        seek counselling or medical assistance if  these suggestions do not help