Most school and college students share one thing in common - anxiety before exams. When students are certain they have prepared sufficient enough to ace the upcoming examinations,this certainty tends to die away as the date of the first test nears. We have all experienced our minds going blank and temporarily not being able to remember the answer to a question on the board exam paper - which is quite terrifying! Regardless of the examination board - CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE or the others, exam anxiety may interfere with the student’s test-taking ability and thus affect their performance, and has numerous causes.
Exam anxiety is the highest source of stress among students - surpassing personal issues and extracurricular activities. A study conducted in 2010 reveals that exam anxiety affects around 10% to 40% of school students, and has been gradually increasing since then. A study conducted by Childline in 2011 shows that 92% of children feel anxious about exams and revision.
Exam anxiety in a student has a variety of causes, such as:
Fear of not faring well in the exams.
Knowing or feeling that one is underprepared.
Pressure from family or relatives to meet their expectations.
Competitiveness among peers and classmates.
Poor prior test performance.
High amount of emphasis on academics in their school.
Another general anxiety disorder affecting the individual.
Biologically, it has been found that anxiety before exams is caused by a release of the hormone adrenaline in the body, which makes the person more alert and also a bit nervous and helps them tackle stressful situations better. This adrenaline ‘rush’ often becomes much stronger immediately before an exam and the student may experience nervousness during the exam.
Mental factors include low personal expectations arising from poor self-esteem and poor past performance in tests, negative and self-deprecatory thoughts, and crippling under the pressure of family’s expectations. Perfectionism also plays a role in creating anxiety when a certain ‘perfect’ score in the student’s mind is not achieved. In turn, it becomes a cycle which is detrimental to a student’s performance in the long term: Anxiety leads to poor results in the exam, which creates greater fear, anxiety and the belief that the student’s ability is poor as well, and thus leads to bad results in the next exam.
Exam anxiety leads to stress before and during the exams. The Yerkes-Dodson law shows that some amount of stress, up to a certain point, is beneficial for a student’s performance. However, after this point, the student’s performance starts being negatively affected.
Exam anxiety may lead to physical symptoms such as sweating, fidgeting, nausea, occasional vomiting, headaches and lightheadedness, a rapid heartbeat and in rare cases, unconsciousness due to too much stress.
Coping with Exam Stress
Several methods can be implemented to overcome this:
Start preparing in advance and make a carefully planned study schedule, with a specific amount of time allocated to each subject.
Improve your time management. This study plan will help you.
Revise new or difficult topics within 48 hours of learning them. It is scientifically proven that these topics will be then stored in your long-term memory and thus will not need last-minute cramming which causes stress. You can visit top helpful websites such as Khan Academy or syllabus revision blogs.
Ask for help from teachers or peers.
Take short breaks between periods of study.
Vent out your stress to someone.
Eat healthy foods and adopt an active lifestyle. If you do not play sports, take walks or go running outdoors.
Sleep for at least 8 hours a night before and during the exams. Do not become an insomniac - it will negatively affect your health and performance.
Minimize or avoid social media use.
The CBSE Board has introduced a phone counseling service to all students, which runs for a few months before the board exams and strives to reduce anxiety among students by providing a safe medium to share and resolve their issues.
Moreover, know that exam anxiety affects thousands of other students, not only you! I guarantee that with knowledge of its causes perseverance and following of the methods listed above will help you successfully overcome it and obtain the results you aim for.