An exam is coming up. You get a weak stomach, sweaty hands or even start sleeping poorly at night. All of this is perfectly normal – being nervous is part of exams. These feelings only become a problem when you have to deal with a so-called “blackout” before exams which is defined as when your fear makes you unable to function normally and you cannot recall what you have studied before. It helps to understand the term “test anxiety” and to look for possible solutions to help you deal with such a situation. Overcoming this fear means that nothing will stand in the way of your next exam!
What does test anxiety mean?
When a healthy nervousness turns into a real fear, you are most likely experiencing test anxiety or exam nerves. It is helpful to understand how exam nerves come about in the first place. Most of the time, you are not afraid of the exam itself, but rather of the negative consequences that you might imagine for your career or private life.
Exam nerves are deeply rooted within us and are often influenced by experiences from our childhood. For example, if your parents challenged you a lot as a child, this usually affects you in adult life. As adults, we treat ourselves the way we have been taught to in childhood. Fear of failure and the “embarrassment” that comes with it leads us to put ourselves under too much pressure.
Where does test anxiety begin?
Is this stressful situation, which affects thousands of students every year, motivated by a societal pressure to succeed? Striving for perfectionism and high self-expectations can come from society and can often have a negative consequence. Thoughts such as ‘I’ve already failed, I can’t fail again!’ and ‘I need to complete all my studying in X amount of time’ have certainly gone through all students minds at some point. The fear of failing, whether in the eyes of others or oneself, is great.
It is interesting to note that this pressure to succeed comes from outside, is learned and then passed on. We implement what we have learned from home or in school situations. However, as soon as we understand the origin of this problem, we can also work positively against it. We can become masters of ourselves again and pass on this attitude to friends and family. If we assure not only ourselves but also others that a failed exam is not an end of the world, we can counteract the general fear.
What helps to overcome exam anxiety?
A certain nervousness before most exams is quite normal and cannot be avoided completely. However, you can learn to accept this and deal with it using simple breathing and calming techniques which will help you to stay calm and go into your exams with a better feeling. It is important you try to reduce negative thoughts, tension and your fear of failure whilst building your self-confidence. You need to trust yourself so that you can feel comfortable in an exam situation.
It helps if you take your time before the exam and try to think about a positive result instead of a possible failure. Try to free yourself from negative memories. It is perfectly okay to strive for a good result, but don’t be too hard on yourself if your exam performance doesn’t meet your expectations in the end. The less pressure you put on yourself and the more you trust in your abilities, the better your result will be in the end.
You can prevent exam stress by studying early, scheduling your lessons and maintaining a healthy learning environment. By taking breaks, getting enough sleep and not putting yourself under massive pressure, you are will be well prepared for the upcoming exam.
During the exam it helps to start with the easiest tasks. This way you’ll start to recognise that when you apply yourself, you get a sense of achievement. However, if you find yourself in a spiral of thoughts and start to worry, start reminding yourself of your successes.
In summary, there are many techniques and tricks that you can use in your everyday life to stay calm, focus on the exam and not lose yourself in your fear. Remember that you make the decision whether or not you’re going to be controlled by fear. Relieve the pressure you put on yourself as much as possible. It is perfectly okay to make mistakes or need a second and third attempt; a failed test does not define you. Be proud of your achievements and make sure that you are looking after yourself. This will prepare you for any stressful situation.