The word ‘exam’ itself comes with a lot of fear, stress, and tension for a student. The term ‘exam’ has different meanings in different people’s lives. Exam-related stress is not new for students of any age group. From a nursery student to a postgraduate one, every student experiences exam-related stress at least once during their academic years. Some people may think that only those students who are average in their studies experience stress before or during an exam, while this fact is completely a myth. According to experts, experiencing anxiety before appearing in an exam doesn’t depend on the merit of the students. It is an all-natural feeling and can be experienced by any student. In fact, many psychologists argue that feeling nervous before an exam partially motivates and helps a student perform well in the examination. But if a student experiences excessive anxiety before or during an exam, it can adversely interfere with their performance. Thus, experiencing excessive distress and anxiety before or during an exam is considered as a psychological condition named ‘Exam/Test Anxiety.’
A student can experience exam anxiety due to a few significant causes. Experts claim that a student can experience exam anxiety even with proper exam preparation. It not only impairs one’s overall performance but develops serious mental health issues, such as stress disorder. Before elaborating on the details, let’s understand what exam anxiety is.
- What is Exam Anxiety?
- Types of Exam Anxiety
- How to identify Exam Anxiety?
- Symptoms of Exam Anxiety
- Why does a student experience exam anxiety?
- Is exam anxiety beneficial?
- Effects of Exam Anxiety on Students
- How can teachers help students reduce exam anxiety?
- How can parents help children eliminate exam-related fear?
- Ways to reduce Exam Anxiety
What is Exam Anxiety?
Exam anxiety is a stressful feeling experienced by students before or during an exam. It is an intense psychological condition consisting of fear, panic, and stress that can negatively impact a student’s academic performance. In simple words, when a student experiences an intense level of stress or nervousness before or during an exam, even after taking proper exam preparation, this feeling is called exam anxiety. Exam anxiety is when a student freezes during an exam, starts doubting if they can perform well, or experiences rapid breathing or increased heart rate. The severity of the anxiety ranges from mild to intense, depending on the primary causes.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has defined exam anxiety as performance anxiety. According to them, people experience exam anxiety in those situations where performance plays a pivotal role. People often feel nervous that they might fail to demonstrate their best when needed. Exam anxiety consists of a few physical symptoms as well as emotional reactions, but the symptoms vary from person to person.
Types of Exam Anxiety
The severity of exam anxiety largely depends on the primary cause of experiencing it. The intense feeling can last for more than a few minutes. Students can experience two types of exam anxiety depending on the cause and their circumstances.
High Exam anxiety
High exam anxiety includes an immediate reaction by the sufferer. A student experiencing this kind of exam anxiety often tries to avoid appearing in the exam by giving excuses. In some cases, they may appear in the exam with extreme fear. A student with high exam anxiety can experience severe panic attacks before/during the exam.
Low Exam anxiety
Low exam anxiety doesn’t negatively affect a student’s academic performance. A student experiencing this kind of exam anxiety may feel a little tense before appearing in an exam. But it will not prevent a student from focusing on their exam. Experts claim that low exam anxiety doesn’t trigger intrusive thoughts during test situations.
How to identify Exam Anxiety?
One of the most adverse impacts of experiencing exam anxiety is its ability to impair one’s performance. Students experience different types of symptoms while experiencing this kind of anxiety. While some feel ‘butterflies’ in their stomach, others may massively struggle to focus on the exam. That’s why students need to identify if they are experiencing exam anxiety and take necessary precautions before it starts to ruin their academic performance. According to psychologists, every person experiences stress at some point in their lives. But the severity varies from person to person, depending on their situation. Psychologists believe that there is an optimal limit of experiencing stress about an incident. When the stress level crosses the limit, the stress should be considered as a medical condition. Thus, this theory goes for exam anxiety also.
When a student experiences intense stress, excessive fear, or panic attacks before/during an exam, the psychological conditions should be identified as exam anxiety. A student with exam anxiety can develop numerous physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. Let’s know about the various distressing symptoms of exam anxiety.
Symptoms of Exam Anxiety
The symptoms of exam anxiety considerably vary from student to student. Similarly, the symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on the potential cause and situation. In some major circumstances, the effect of exam anxiety can also last even after the exam. Students can identify their exam anxiety by paying attention if they develop the following symptoms.
1. Emotional symptoms
- Feeling helpless, stressed, afraid, overwhelmed, or nervous
- Experiencing mild to severe panic attacks
- Experiencing low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and anger issues
- Feeling a sense of guilt, shame, and disappointment without any proper reason
- Feeling low or depressed all the time
- Having intrusive negative thoughts regarding their capabilities
- Ruminating over their negative exam experiences, poor exam results, or consequences of failure
2. Physical symptoms
- Experiencing increased heart rate, excessive sweating, and shaking
- Experiencing rapid breathing, dry mouth, fatigue, and nausea
- Losing consciousness for some moments, having an intense headache
- Experiencing lightheadedness, or feeling dizzy all the day, sleep deprivation
- Experiencing digestive problems or muscle pain throughout the body
- Stomach-related health issues, including diarrhea and vomiting
- Experiencing discomfort in the chest
- Experiencing appetite changes or suffering from eating disorders, such as binge eating
3. Behavioral symptoms
- Experiencing restlessness without any proper reason
- Engaging in negative thoughts and negative self-talk
- Procrastinating and involving in unnecessary comparisons with others
- Avoiding test situations by giving lame excuses, skipping school or college on exam day, dropping out of school (in major cases)
- Engaging in substance abuse to deal with the anxiety
- Isolating oneself within a room, not interacting with anybody, or staying awake all the night during the exam days in the hope that all these can improve their exam performance
- Feeling obsessed regarding study-related matters, avoiding exam-related discussions with parents or friends
- Failing to answer the easiest questions even after knowing them well
- Leaving the exam hall as soon as possible or sometimes before finishing
4. Cognitive symptoms
- Struggling to concentrate on the exam, recall the study materials even with proper preparation
- Experiencing difficulty in paying attention during exam
- Having disorganized thoughts about unnecessary things during/before the exam
- Thinking about past failures, negative exam performances, or past experiences of embarrassment
- Extreme worry about the result of the exam
- Thinking about the negative consequences if they fail to perform well in the exam
Why does a student experience exam anxiety?
Experiencing stress before or during a test situation is common for every person. It is a natural reaction to stress. But in certain circumstances, for certain people, the feeling of stress can be extremely intense, and it can even interfere with their daily activities. However, some potential causes trigger test anxiety among students. According to psychologists, one can experience exam anxiety due to:
1. Negative exam experiences
Negative exam experience is one of the leading causes of exam anxiety among students. When a student has an experience of poor exam performance, it can trigger a more negative attitude in the student during an exam. Whenever the student has to appear in an exam, their past failures will haunt them and cause more anxiety. Such experiences can also adversely affect one’s self-confidence.
2. Fear of Failure
Students who experience a fear of failure due to their past failure experiences are more likely to experience exam anxiety. Those who consider exams as intense competitions and are obsessed with getting good grades tend to experience exam anxiety. Many times, students associate their exam grades with their self-worth. According to psychologists, this practice can be harmful to a student’s self-confidence.
3. Parental pressure
Experts claim that students with strict parents are more likely to experience anxiety before/during exams. In today’s competitive world, most parents impose excessive pressure on their children to get good grades in exams. While parental pressure has many negative effects on a child’s mental health, it can also cause exam anxiety among students.
Perfectionism is when a person has supremely high expectations for themselves. A person with perfectionism often sets unrealistic goals for themselves and engages in self-criticism if they fail to be perfect in every single thing they do. Researchers argue that perfectionism makes a student more anxious during test situations. It adversely impacts a student’s performance.
5. Lack of preparation
Lack of adequate exam preparation is another commonly observed cause of exam anxiety. Students with poor exam preparation can experience intense anxiety before or during the exam.
Is exam anxiety beneficial?
Many mental health specialists argue that feeling nervous before an exam partially motivates students to focus on the exam and perform well. According to studies, anxiety can be helpful for us in some specific situations. For example, if you are in danger as your car is going to crash and jumping out of the car can save your life. During such a situation, you become anxious, and your anxiety makes you jump out of the car. It is known as the ‘fight or flight response of the human body. It not only increases our attention during a threatening event but also helps us to save ourselves from danger. But anxiety doesn’t help if we are in a cognitive situation, such as an examination. An examination includes a test situation that requires our cognitive abilities and skills. Thus, exam anxiety is not beneficial if the stress level is severe; and can impair a student’s overall performance.
Effects of Exam Anxiety on Students
Experts of the American Test Anxiety Association (ATAA) have conducted an exam anxiety survey among students worldwide. The survey result showed that examinations are the most stressful thing in students’ lives. While exam anxiety is not a matter of concern in most situations, it can take a toll on students’ mental health and academic performance if left unchecked. The following are some negative effects of exam anxiety among students:
- As mentioned above, students may fail to recall those study materials on which they have spent a lot of time reviewing.
- Research suggests that students with exam anxiety are two times more likely to get poor grades compared to their peers.
- Additionally, it can harm a student’s self-esteem and confidence. Students with exam anxiety tend to engage themselves in self-criticism and negative self-talk.
- It can also cause difficulty in learning. A student experiencing exam anxiety can struggle while concentrating on the questions or projecting their skills and knowledge in the exam. It does nothing but impairs a student’s overall performance.
- They may feel blank out or experience mild to severe panic attacks during an examination. In major cases, a student can even lose consciousness due to exam anxiety.
How can teachers help students reduce exam anxiety?
As students spend most of their time at school, teachers play a huge role in every student’s life. Psychologists believe that educators or teachers can help students overcome exam anxiety. The following is a guide for teachers to reduce students’ exam anxiety.
- Never force students to get good grades in exams. Try to prioritize their classroom preparations and efforts first. It will motivate them to work hard for their future endeavors.
- Don’t impose the perspective on students that examinations are wars they have to win. Try to make the concept of exams easy for their understanding.
- If you notice a student experiencing exam anxiety, ask them about the roots of their fear. Request them to share their feelings and thoughts with you. A friendly atmosphere within the classroom will help the students to be open about themselves.
- Always motivate them to adopt healthy study habits. Ask them to practice simple strategies to reduce exam anxiety.
- Educate the students about the importance of positive thinking. Help them to prepare a proper study schedule.
- Teach them simple strategies that will help them during exams. It will gradually eliminate the exam-related fear among them.
How can parents help children eliminate exam-related fear?
The first thing parents can do to reduce exam-related stress among their children is to maintain a healthy atmosphere within their house. It will help the children share their feelings and problems with their parents. Here are some useful ways parents can help their children to reduce exam anxiety:
- Help them to learn effective learning techniques that will help them during exams.
- Prevent yourself from comparing your children with their peers. Unnecessary comparison can lead to your children engaging in self-criticism.
- Never impose extreme parental pressure on children. Your children can develop severe mental health issues due to excessive stress.
- Celebrate your children’s little efforts and achievements. It will keep them motivated to work hard.
- Teach them to become organized and ask them to track their progress throughout the year.
- Motivate your child to spend quality time with their friends. Encourage them to spend some time with their favorite hobbies.
- Never discourage your children that they can’t do anything. It can ruin their self-confidence. If they fail to perform well in exams, motivate them by saying that they will perform better in the future.
- Consult a therapist if your child is experiencing a high level of exam anxiety.
Ways to reduce Exam Anxiety
While exam anxiety is believed to be harmless, it can adversely affect one’s physical health in some major circumstances. Thus, every student needs to know how they can deal with exam anxiety. Here are some tips and tricks for students to overcome exam anxiety:
- Don’t try to be perfect in everything you do. Allow yourself to make mistakes and try to learn from them.
- Accept the fact that you are going to experience some level of stress before/during the exam. It is natural for students to feel stressed regarding exam-related matters.
- Prepare well for the exam; so that you can be confident enough about the outcome of the exam.
- Adopt healthy lifestyle habits, including properly eating healthy foods on time, having an adequate sleep daily, drinking enough water, and exercising daily.
- Practice meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises to calm your mind and remove negative thoughts from your mind.
- Follow a well-prepared study schedule; so that you don’t need to be stressed about your study at the last moment before your exam.
- Take breaks in between your studies. Spend time with your friends and family. It will keep your mind fresh.
- Share your problems with a loved one if you identify your anxiety signs.
Examinations have become a significant part of student life – a part they can’t avoid but want to. Feeling nervous before an exam is an all-natural thing for students. But if the stress level increases and starts to impair their performance, it should be identified as exam anxiety. Thus, every student should know how they can effectively deal with exam anxiety if experienced. Parents and teachers can also motivate the students to learn useful strategies to eliminate exam-related fear and stress.