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Examination Anxiety - How To Tackle It?

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Chadha 91% (900 ratings)
Ph.D, M.Phil - Psychology
Psychologist, Mathura  •  34 years experience
Examination Anxiety - How To Tackle It?

What Is Examination Anxiety?

Many people experience stress or anxiety before an exam. In fact, a little nervousness can actually help you perform your best. However, when this distress becomes so excessive that it actually interferes with performance on an exam, it is known as examination anxiety.

What does it feel like to experience test anxiety?

You paid attention in class, took detailed notes, read every chapter, and even attended extra study sessions after class, so you should do great on that big exam, right? When the test is presented, however, you find yourself so nervous that you blank out the answers to even the easiest questions. If this experience sounds familiar, then you might be suffering from test anxiety.

Exam anxiety is defined as behavioural changes associated with the feeling of being examined e.g. at written tests related to courses of study. It is the uneasiness, apprehension, or nervousness felt by students who had a fear of failing an exam. It is a type of performance anxiety. In situations where the pressure is on and good performance counts, people can become so anxious that they are actually unable to do their best.

The severity of test anxiety can vary considerably from one person to another. Some people might feel like they have "butterflies" in their stomach and while others might find it difficult to concentrate on the exam. Excessive fear can make it difficult to concentrate and you might struggle to recall things that you have studied. You might feel like all the information you spent so much time reviewing suddenly seems inaccessible in your mind. You blank out the answers to questions to which you know you know the answers. This inability to concentrate and recall information then contributes to even more anxiety and stress, which only makes it that much harder to focus your attention on the test.

Fortunately, there are steps that students can take to alleviate these unpleasant and oftentimes harmful symptoms. By learning more about the possible causes of their test anxiety, students can begin to look for helpful solutions.

What causes test anxiety?

For many students, it can be a combination of things. Poor study habits, poor past test performance and an underlying anxiety problem can all contribute to test anxiety.

A few potential causes of test anxiety include:

- A history of poor testing outcomes. If you have done poorly on tests before, either because you didn't study well enough or because you were so anxious, you couldn't remember the answers, this can cause even more anxiety and a negative attitude every time you have to take another test.
- Being unprepared. If you didn't study or didn't study well enough, this can add to your feeling of anxiety.
- Being afraid of failure. If you connect your sense of self-worth to your test scores, the pressure you put on yourself can cause severe test anxiety.

Overcoming Test Anxiety: So what exactly can you do to prevent or minimize test anxiety? Here are some strategies to help:

- Make sure you're prepared. That means studying for the test early until you feel comfortable with the material.
Don't wait until the night before. If you aren't sure how to study, ask your teacher or parent for help. Being prepared will boost your confidence, which will lessen your test anxiety.

- Banish the negative thoughts. If you start to have anxious or defeated thoughts, such as "I'm not good enough," "I didn't study hard enough," or "I can't do this," push those thoughts away and replace them with positive thoughts. "I can do this," "I know the material," and "I studied hard," can go far in helping to manage your stress level when taking a test.

- Get enough sleep. A good night's sleep will help your concentration and memory.

- Take deep breaths. If you start to feel anxious while you're taking your test, breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Work through each question or problem one at a time, taking a deep breath in between each one as needed. Making sure you are giving your lungs plenty of oxygen can help your focus and sense of calm.

- Avoid the perfectionist trap. Don't expect to be perfect. We all make mistakes and that's okay. Knowing you've
done your best and worked hard is really all that matters, not perfection.

Therapy and Medications Can Also Help -

- If you need extra support, please do not hesitate or delay seeing a counsellor/psychologist/your physician for help.
- Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may require counselling, relaxation, anti-anxiety medications, or a combination of these.

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