How to reduce exam anxiety

By Prapoorna M

Last Updated: November 27, 2021

Exam anxiety or test anxiety is a kind of anxiety that is the outcome of the combination of tension, physical symptoms, physiological over-arousal, along with imaginary worries and fears during the test or exam situations.

A little nervousness on exam day is normal and can improve your focus and sharpen your thinking. But when feelings of worry and self-doubt are added to the test anxiety, our condition becomes miserable. Be it an annual exam in school or a semester examination in college, or maybe a simple surprise test or an entrance test, the more anxious we become the less the chances of remembering of what we know.

Test anxiety is a learned practice that is induced from circumstances, friends, our confidence levels, and our idea on the subject of the test etc. Test anxiety can be reduced with practice, but if we do nothing to reduce it, that gets accumulated. Even very intelligent students of the class also have test anxiety but they practice some psychological techniques to reduce it.

What causes Exam or Test Anxiety?

A Child having exam anxiety
A Child having exam anxiety

Several reasons contribute to exam anxiety in students, like frequent distractions, poor memory, fear of failure, poor test history, etc. Lets us have a look at them in detail. Some qualities in students like negative self-image, disinterest in the subject, course, or teacher, and low confidence in their abilities are also the reason for the anxiety to build up. If the students fail to receive the grade they expected in previous exams, such unexpected results may develop disinterest on the subject or course and such conditions also lead to test anxiety.

If a student has low learning ability especially in certain subjects, for instance, in Mathematics, the difficulty in calculating numbers and applying tables could make them hate the subject. On top of that, if the time available for the preparation of test is limited, it leads to frustration as the disability of being too slow in processing and presentation are going to affect the test result. All such circumstances could lead to exam anxiety.

Some students have the anxious temperament and believe that they anyways are not going to do well. Some of them have a continuous fear of failure and tend to fail due to that. Such students usually cannot concentrate even on getting prepared for the test. This further increases their exam anxiety. Also, if the course is really beyond the student’s ability or if the student is not at all interested in the course, such instances could also increase test anxiety.

Practicing the model tests conducted in school/college and referring the study material provided to you, can make you remember that you read them before and help you regain the confidence. Sometimes stressful situations make the person to handle two tasks at a time, like the task in hand and unhelpful thoughts that linger around. It becomes difficult for them to leave those thoughts and concentrate on what they are reading. Those thoughts, which could be both situational and thoughts about possible negative consequences of poor performance will also create test or exam anxiety.

Effect of working memory

Working memory is a system that actively holds several pieces of relevant information in the mind while inhibiting irrelevant information. It has a limited capacity, and the addition of anxiety reduces the resources available to focus on relevant information. Attention is an important part of working memory where the individuals tend to divert their attention for emotional stimuli rather than non-emotional stimuli, which affects the attention.

It is common for emotional stimuli to divert a person’s thoughts while it needs a lot of additional working memory resources to suppress those diversions. If such division of resources is done, between aversive cognitions and task-relevant material, the ability to use relevant information for test will definitely suffer.

Tips to reduce Test/Exam Anxiety

The most important and general tips to avoid test anxiety in students involve both psychological and physical exercises. Here are the strategies that every student should follow.

A girl Studying
A girl Studying

Stressful emotions can inhibit a student’s ability to absorb, retain and recall information. Stress can create anxiety that makes it difficult to retrieve what’s stored in our memory and that ability to comprehend it and reason it also decreases. Helping students build both emotional skills and physical strength can reduce their anxiety levels and associated symptoms, during test period.

  • Instead of being an all-nighter, students should cultivate a habit of reading the material when the subject is taught.
  • Once something was learnt, if someone works on it, spending some time to grasp the essence, the chances of remembering such concepts, for a long time, are very high.
  • No past records or results should affect the present. Being too over-confident or going down on a negative lane, thinking about the poor results secured in the past, would make us lose the self-confidence.
  • Negative thinking does no good to anybody, either physically, or psychologically. Think positive and plan to act accordingly.
  • Comparison is another main culprit in hindering the talent of students by making them anxious thus keeping them away from securing better grades.
  • Comparing ourselves with friends and relatives or somebody else would always create anxiousness, making us think low of ourselves.
  • This increases unknown pressure on the students trying to prove themselves. This is way many students are prone to performance anxiety, which is clearly felt during exams.

Reduce it Behaviorally

Test/Exam anxiety can be reduced through certain behaviors as listed below.

  • Have a balanced diet and stop skipping meals. Hunger can make your anxiety worse.
  • Make sure your diet is nutritious enough to provide you with a sustained release of energy.
  • Get complete rest. Having improper sleep could affect your brain’s ability.
  • Taking good rest helps you focus on your studies well.
  • Take good number of breaks between subjects and stretch your muscle during such periods.
  • Anxiety causes muscles to tense up. Stretching your muscles will not only give you physical relief but also helps you reduce your anxiety levels.
  • Some of your friends could be the inducers or generators of anxiety.
  • Their negative thinking or behavior could affect you. Keep yourself away from them.
  • Aerobic exercises that you enjoy doing, improve your concentration levels. They include cycling, running, swimming, or playing tennis, badminton etc. that can also control your anxiety levels.

Reduce it Emotionally

There are certain emotional aspects which students should focus on. They include the following.

  • Focus on positive aspects like your past success, and the test you secured well. Tell yourself that you are special and can rise from the failure.
  • Ignore negative comments from co-students and focus on what you’re going to achieve.
  • Think about your state if you are trying to avoid reading or procrastinating the process.
  • This is not a good sign as you would be anticipating some failure and trying to avoid facing it. Work on your thinking.
  • Analyze your negative thoughts that affect your confidence. Try to break them down and find the reasons. This reduces the intensity of the problem and helps you realize that they are based on imaginations or stupid beliefs.
  • Replace all the illogical “What ifs?” with logical thoughts questioning the reason behind it. This helps you to fight with your negative thoughts and helps you understand that there’s really nothing to worry about.
  • Don’t worry about the results or outcomes. Try to put your best foot forward by giving your full potential in the preparation. Don’t compromise for temporary comforts.
  • Always use positive statements and avoid self-criticism. If you cannot support yourself, nobody else can ever will.
  • Analyze your preparation till now, and plan accordingly to work on it uncompromisingly.
  • Having said all this, it is essential to point out that it is the will power and self motivation that helps a student to achieve success and reduce exam anxiety.

In case you need any help from experts to reduce your exam anxiety or choose a right career, our career counselors are here to guide you. Log on to Wellness Hub and book an appointment, now.

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