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Understanding exam anxiety
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Understanding exam anxiety

Post by on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

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Almost everyone will feel nervous or experience some level of anxiety when faced with an exam, assessment, or performance situation. It is kind of a natural response for many students during the preparations of exams.

Also, a moderate level of anxiety or stress is decisive to perform well as it helps us to be psychologically and physically alert in an exam or assessment type of situation. The challenge is when our level of anxiety increases and interferes with our performance. 

When anxiety is too intense, we may have difficulty learning and remembering what we need to know for the exam, find it hard to focus on questions, or demonstrate our knowledge or skills during the exam.

Even if you identify high levels of exam anxiety in yourself, the good news is that it’s possible to learn effective ways to manage this so that it doesn’t take over or get in the way of your performance.

Test anxiety is the experience of an intense feeling of fear or panic before and/or during an exam or assessment.

There are two types of anxiety:

Low anxiety: Students who experience low anxiety may feel a little nervous about the upcoming exam, but are still able to focus their attention on their studies or the questions asked during the assessment. Students with low anxiety are usually not affected by intrusive thoughts or feel debilitated by the exam.

High anxiety: students who experience high anxiety show an immediate anxiety response when exposed to a feared test situation. They try to avoid the situation by not appearing for the exam, or they may pass it but with extreme fear. High anxiety can send some into a sense of panic: “I really can’t handle this.”

Students with high or low anxiety may respond to tests in different ways. It's also shown by researchers that effectively managing anxiety can actually help with exam performance.

The challenge is to recognize when your anxiety has exceeded an optimal level so that it starts to affect your ability to complete the exam – that is a high level of anxiety.

Some physical reactions to high anxiety include a racing heart, clammy hands, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and feeling nauseous. A physical response is usually experienced at high levels of anxiety when the fight or flight response is triggered. This is how our bodies react to a perceived threat – and while it is unpleasant, it is not harmful.

What causes exam anxiety?

The skills that will help you most in managing test anxiety will depend on what factors may be contributing to it. Test anxiety can be related to:

• Negative past exam experience.

• Lack of adequate preparation or knowledge of test-taking techniques or study methods.

• Excessive pressure to achieve and/or perfectionism.

• Strong fear of failure.

• Poor self-care, including not getting enough sleep, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise or relaxation.

• Taking some time to understand and identify what is contributing to your particular experience of anxiety can help you create an effective plan to deal with it.

• Prepare as best you can: This means studying for the exam early enough and using effective study techniques to help you learn, understand and remember the information. Good preparation will help you feel confident about the study material, which can ultimately keep stress under control.


There are many symptoms that people can have when they experience test anxiety, and these can occur before, during, and/or after exams. Below are some of the commonly reported symptoms.


? Feeling nervous, restless or overwhelmed.

? Feeling panicky or having panic attacks.

? Feeling down or helpless.

? Feeling shame or guilt.


? Increased heart rate.

? Muscle tension throughout the body.

? Nausea and/or digestive changes.

? Fatigue without physical exertion.

? Increased sweating.

? Difficulty breathing or chest tightness.

? Loss of appetite or overeating.

? Light-headedness or feeling dizzy.

? Changes in sleep (excessive or insufficient sleep or disturbed sleep).


? Difficulty concentrating and/or paying attention.

? Difficulty retrieving or processing key information (remains blank).

? Racing or disorganized thoughts.

? Irrational or unhelpful thoughts.

? Preoccupation with thoughts of failure or embarrassment.

? Concerns about time constraints or exam results.

? Comparison with others during the test situation

? The ability to recall the answers to the exam after the exam is over.


? Stimulation or restless behaviour (leg tremors, increased activity).

? Cramming or staying up the night before in hopes that it will help improve your grades or reduce anxiety.

? Withdrawing from others or obsessing over studies

? Procrastination and avoiding cues related to exams including studying.

? Making simple mistakes on an exam despite knowing the content

? Don’t go to exams.

? Leaving the exam as soon as possible or before completion.

? Using alcohol or other substances to distract from stress/studies.


Importance of physical health for a healthy mind

When we are busy, we eat well, sleep regularly, and exercise can easily be neglected. Yet they are essential for us to be at our best physically, mentally and emotionally. For example, sleep is important for concentration and memory.

When planning your study plan, prioritize basic self-care—that means making time for things like healthy meals, getting enough sleep, consistent exercise, and social, fun, or relaxing activities first. You can then plan study tasks around them.


Dealing to manage the physical symptoms and sign of Anxiety

It is important to know that the physical symptoms we experience with anxiety are unpleasant but not dangerous. You can learn and practice relaxation techniques such as belly breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to calm your body or relieve tension.

It is a good idea to practice them regularly when you don’t feel too overwhelmed to begin with, so that the strategies feel more natural and easier to use during more intense times (like when you are sitting in the exam hall).

Make stress work for you by reframing your thoughts

How you interpret test anxiety can affect your academic performance. A moderate amount of stress energizes and motivates us, helping us focus and stay alert. When we find stress useful in studying because it gives us strength and energy to overcome challenges, it can reduce emotional exhaustion during the exam and improve our performance.

Be your own motivational coach

When we get caught up in negative or self-critical thoughts, we can feel more overwhelmed and undermine us from taking positive action. Remind yourself that test anxiety is a normal experience and that it can be managed. Validate yourself by focusing on the studies you have completed and the helpful steps you have taken in the past to complete your exams.

Connect with people who support you

Some people find studying together with other students who are in a similar situation both comforting and motivating. It is also okay to take a break from others if others are stressing you out. It can also be important to reach out to other helpful friends or family to talk about how you are feeling or things outside of your studies.

To find out more about how to keep stress under control at exam time, The University of Melbourne Peer Health Advocates and Bupa have also put together their top tips for managing exam stress.

So, how can I cool my exam nerves?

If you distinguish tall uneasiness in yourself, you will be able to learn ways to oversee it so that it doesn’t take over your exam performance.

The abilities you discover most supportive in overseeing your exam uneasiness will shift depending on what triggers may be contributing to your tall levels of anxiety. If understudies encounter tall levels of uneasiness some time recently during an exam, they ought to lock in in self-care procedures amid this time by keeping an eye on resting through the night, nourishment, work out, and actualizing many unwinding routines. Students now and then disregard these little steps as they can feel devoured by the fear of the exam.

Relaxation training

Psychologists and school wellbeing teams have a range of techniques to help you manage test anxiety - and can also recommend ways to improve your study 0+1 skills.

The techniques aim to help students understand the nature of their anxiety so they can cope more effectively with upcoming assessments.

This may include a behavioural intervention to teach relaxation training such as mindfulness. Mindfulness is where the student tries to focus on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting their anxious feelings, thoughts, and physical reactions.

Relaxation training can be used alongside the process of systematic desensitization – where the person visualizes the scene completely relaxed and the mental image evokes some of the feelings of the actual scene.

The idea is that if you learn to relax while visualizing yourself taking the exam, you can also learn to relax while taking the exam itself.

Support through special consideration: Some students who experience high levels of anxiety (intense panic or fear of an exam that results in them not being able to take the test) may receive additional support through special attention at their school.

However, some students may need access to a separate room to complete exams, regular breaks during the exam, or more time. To access this type of consideration, contact your school’s mental health team or a psychologist (see resources below) to help you create an individualized plan during the exam period.

Learning to work with test anxiety can have a number of positive effects, including:

• Improved academic performance.

• Reducing stress and anxiety.

• Increased sense of control and confidence.

• Reduced frustration.


Tips for coping with exam anxiety

When preparing for exams, try to:

• Prepare in advance by working on pieces of content each day.

• Use practice exams as an opportunity to manage anxiety.

• Identify your anxiety early by noticing your physical reactions.

• Try replacing unhelpful thoughts with more encouraging self-talk by challenging your worried and negative thoughts.

• Practice focusing your attention on the task at hand (mindfulness) rather than getting caught up in your anxiety and thinking about “what ifs”.

• Learn some skills to reduce physical reactions to anxiety.

• Remember to take good care of yourself: pay attention to sleep, nutrition, exercise, relaxation routines and reach out to social support.



Conclusion, test uneasiness is the result of numerous interrelated convictions and encounters. Ineffectual ponder strategies, and lingering can lead to uneasiness and a brought down self-image.


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