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What is exam anxiety? How to overcome it?

What is exam anxiety? How to overcome it?

Last Updated: 04-03-2023

Written by :

Ms.Zahabiya Bambora
Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.

Reviewed By:

Counselling Psychologist MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
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Do you find yourself asking this question, “I can’t do this?” or your mind goes blank during exams? Does your heart start beating fast and you find it hard to breathe while giving an exam or an important test? Many people feel anxious when sitting for an exam, research shows that some people tend to suffer more exam anxiety than others. So, what can you really do to calm yourself down?

Exam anxiety is getting the feeling of intense fear or panic before or/and during the exam. There are two types of exam anxiety – low and high. Students who suffer from low exam anxiety may feel a little bit nervous about upcoming tests but are able to focus their attention on their studies or on the question that is being asked in the assessment. Students who suffer from high exam anxiety show immediate and intense anxiety reactions when exposed to attending a feared test/exam. They will do everything in their power to avoid the exam or face it with extreme fear. High anxiety can usually tip a sense of panic and nervousness.

Deal with Exam Anxiety Today

People with high or low anxiety respond differently to tests. Research says that managing stress and anxiety in an effective way can help you with exam performance. The main challenge is to realize when your anxiety reaches an optimal level so that it starts to affect your ability to complete the exam- this is a very high level of anxiety.

The most common physical responses to high anxiety include a fast beating heart, shortness of breath, damp hands, and feeling queasy or nauseous. These responses are usually triggered when the anxiety gets high enough to trigger the “flight or fight” mode. This is how our body reacts to perceived threats- and while we are uncomfortable, this is not harmful in any way.

Anxiety can sometimes be useful in certain situations, for example, if you are in endangerment say when you have an encounter with a wild animal. It can help us to increase our attention to threatening events and helps us improve our response. But it doesn’t prove useful when you are faced with something cognitive, like giving an exam.

Exam anxiety usually roots from negative thinking about your performance (or worry) and/or the physical reaction to an upcoming test is “I am going to fail,” Or “I quit.”

Research has shown that individuals experiencing exam anxiety tend to lose their performance in evaluating situations. These people perceive exams as intimidating and have intense emotional responses to them, which makes focusing on a task difficult. Exam anxiety may also interfere with a person’s ability to show academic and cognitive capabilities.

The process to cool off your nerves: Learning ways to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t take over your exam performance. The skills that are most useful in managing your anxiety will vary depending on the things that trigger your anxiety. If students experience high levels of anxiety before exams should engage in self-care techniques during that time by keeping a note of their sleeping, nutrition, relaxation routines, and exercise.  You should not forget that these small steps can slowly consume your anxiety about exams.

Tips for coping with exam anxiety:

  • Prepare ahead in time by working on sections of the content each day.
  • Try to identify your anxiety by noticing your physical response.
  • Try to solve as many practice papers as possible.
  • Try to focus more on the task at hand, rather than getting yourself tangled in thinking negative thoughts or anxiety.
  • Try replacing negative thoughts with encouraging self-talk.
  • Learn a few skills for reducing physical responses to anxiety.

Exam anxiety can be stressful and very unpleasant, but it is also treatable. If you feel like this anxiety is interfering with your everyday ability to perform, try utilizing self-help strategies designed to manage and lower anxiety. If you are still struggling, talk to a counselor, a mental health practitioner, or a primary care physician for more help and treatments.

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Vural, P.I., Körpe, G. and Inangil, D., 2019. Emotional freedom techniques (EFT) to reduce exam anxiety in Turkish nursing students. European Journal of Integrative Medicine32, p.101002.

Çelik, E. and Yildirim, S., 2019. Examining Test Anxiety in Terms of Academic Expectations Stress and Motivation to Study= Sinavkaygisininakademikbeklentilereiliskinstresvedersçalismaya motive olmaaçisindanincelenmesi. Pegem Journal of Education and Instruction9(4), pp.1139-1158.

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