Updated: Jul 7, 2020
What is Exam Anxiety and How is it Different from Nervousness? Exam season is finally upon us, and with it comes an unholy amount of stress. Most of us have experienced exam-induced stress at some point in our lives. There are a few people, however, who deal with a more intense form of stress, called exam anxiety. Exam anxiety, or test anxiety, is the overwhelming feeling of fear, dread, worry or stress which can negatively impact performance in exams. Test anxiety is experienced both before AND during an exam.
A common misconception about test anxiety is, “I am scared of exams, therefore I have test anxiety.” This isn’t always true. Being scared of exams does not necessarily mean you’ve got test anxiety. A little nervousness before exams is actually good for you, as it motivates you to study harder and do better when the time comes. But you need to be vigilant because simple nervousness can often turn into anxiety if you’re not careful enough. Nervousness is our body’s natural response to a stressful event, but it is temporary and disappears after the event is passed. Nervousness is the feeling of, “What if I’m bad at this?”, while anxiety feels something like, “I can not do this because I will be bad at this.” People with test anxiety experience a host of physical and emotional symptoms.
What Should You Look Out For? Anxiety is different for everyone. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of situation. There are some symptoms, however, that you might want to look out for. Some of the common physical symptoms of anxiety are prolonged nausea, excessive shaking, sweating, and a fast heartbeat. Students might also face emotional symptoms like low self-esteem, depression, and hopelessness. If you feel any of this, it is always a good idea to confide in someone or seek professional help.
What Causes Test Anxiety? Test anxiety can be caused by multiple reasons. Some of them can be:
Not preparing enough
Feeling like you haven’t prepared enough
Fear of going blank during the exam
Fear of failure
Lack of understanding of the subject
Setting high expectations from yourself
External pressure to perform well
Defining yourself by the number of marks you get
Having a mindset that, “If I don’t do well in this exam, it’s the end of the road and I'm doomed.”
Underestimating your capability to deal with the results
Time constraints during exams
How to Overcome Test Anxiety? Now that we know what test anxiety is, how to identify it and what causes it, we arrive at the big question. “How am I supposed to deal with it?” Don’t worry, battling exam anxiety isn’t as hard as it seems! Though it sounds daunting, it is not impossible to deal with it. Here are a few things you can do to relieve yourself of this seemingly debilitating condition:
Preparation is key: Do not postpone studying to the very last day. Prepare over the course of the year. It makes a huge difference.
Take breaks: Taking breaks is extremely important and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Do not try to sit and study for hours on end. It affects your concentration. Know your limit and take a break, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Refresh your mind. Put the subject out of your mind for a while. You won’t believe how much this one tiny step helps!
Don’t compare yourself with others: Everyone progresses at a different pace, and that's okay. Comparing yourself with others will decrease your self-esteem, and we absolutely do not want that.
Everyone has different strengths: Maybe you're good at singing or drawing, but Maths is a nightmare sent from the Devil himself. Identify your strengths, and remember that it might not be the same as others. Accept it, and work hard to excel in your strengths.
Sleep: Everyone’s favourite step! Getting ample sleep before your exam is vital. Rest is just as important as studying. Do not pull an all-nighter the night before your exam. Neither your body nor your brain will like it.
Food: Yep, this step is just as important (and another favourite, too!). Feed and hydrate yourself. It helps with the nerves and calms you down. Going on an empty stomach will most likely cause nausea.
Don’t cram: Try not to study on the day of the exam. Keep your mind fresh on the big day. Do not cram. It might make you stress even more.
Deep breaths: Take a deep breath. It is not as scary as it seems. Focus on yourself for a bit and forget about the exam. You are going to be okay.
Set realistic goals: Know your potential, and set your goals according to that. Don’t overshoot, this will only lead to disappointment. This doesn’t mean you completely give up on your exam, it simply means do the best you can.
Be honest with yourself: If you haven’t prepared enough, acknowledge it. If the exam doesn’t go well, acknowledge it. It’s okay to be sad about it, but do not let it affect your motivation or your future examinations. Be honest with yourself.
It’s not the end: Marks are NOT everything. You are more than the marks you score. Even if you score low, it’s not the end of the world. Learn from it, and try a little harder the next time. Results do not define you.
Now that you have the tools to overcome this anxiety, go ahead and do amazing in your exams! Or not, that’s okay too. Just do your best. Good luck!