a male student in class faces exam anxiety

Many students young and old, suffer from exam anxiety. That awful feeling of sweaty palms, rapid breathing, dizziness or worse you completely blank out when you look at the exam or test paper. And exam anxiety doesn’t just happen exam day. You can experience exam anxiety in the weeks and days leading up to your exams by excessively worrying about your exams, study procrastination, and poor sleep patterns. It’s important for you to know when it comes to exam anxiety, you’re not alone!

Many students experience some pre-exam anxiety. This is very normal. It’s OK and expected to be worried about your exams or test. Mild nervousness  or anxiety can motivate you to study harder, get ready and be prepared for that test. But, when is too much anxiety a bad thing? Well let’s look at somethings that might happen if you suffer from exam anxiety.

How can exam anxiety affect me?

  • Are you avoiding studying or looking at your books?
  • When you go to write your exam do you forget everything you studied  or do you feel you forget large chunks of information?
  • Are you procrastinating when it comes to studying?
  • Do you feel your performance on test or your test results don’t show you’re real capacity as a student?
  • Do you find yourself making poor choices before exams? For example watching a movie or surfing the internet instead of studying?
  • Do get physically sick before, during or after your exams? For example insomnia, upset tummy, sweaty palms, rapid breathing, or dizziness?
  • Do you find yourself having poor attention or having difficulty concentrating on studying?
  • Do you find yourself unable to eat or binge eating?

If you experience many of these symptoms you might have exam anxiety. remember being an slightly worried or anxious about exams and tests is normal. Being overwhelmed by your exams is not.

How do I reduce exam anxiety?

  1. Talk to someone. Feeling anxious? Talk to your teachers, your TA, friends, guidance counsellor or your parents about your anxiety.  Talking about our fears can actually make them seem more manageable and smaller. Reading this article is a great start too.
  2. What is the problem? See if you can figure out what part about exams/ test make this hard for you. OK no one likes exams but where is the problem? Do you need help getting organized? Do you have poor time management skills? Is there material you don’t understand from your course? Do you need a tutor? Do you have no idea where to start? Do you need help in understanding how to study for different types of tests or exams? Do you know how to make effective review notes or how to summarize book chapters?
  3. Started studying now! Avoiding your books and studies will only make matters worse for you. Besides you learn better when you study for shorter time periods. Cramming doesn’t work. Don’t wait until the night before to study. This is a recipe for disaster. Start reviewing or redoing old tests or reading the chapter summaries. Identify what you know and what you need to learn for your test. Make sure you are clear on what chapters and ideas the test will cover.
  4. Plan your studying. Look at where you are today and when your exam is. Now make a plan on what you need to learn, understand, review and know from now until the night before your exam. Plan an hour of studying and then get up for a 10 minute break. And this means 60 mins of real focused studying.
  5. Care for yourself: Have you even noticed some people always get sick during exam week? Anxiety and stress can make you more vulnerable to colds. Now is the time to get plenty of rest, eat well, and make some time for being physically active.
  6. Learn and practice stopping those exam anxious thoughts and feelings. Do you catch yourself saying  or thinking negative things about yourself and how you will do on this test? Sometimes we are our own worst critic. If and when you catch yourself saying negative things about yourself and how you will do on your tests stop yourself. Replace negative thoughts with simple sayings like “I will do my best on this test.” “I’m working hard to get a good grade.” What positive saying can you tell yourself?

If you find yourself still struggling to manage your anxiety after following these tips do speak with a guidance counsellor at your school or talk with a therapist. Talk therapy or psychotherapy can help you work through feelings, thoughts and behaviours that cause or worsen your exam anxiety. There are ways you can overcome test anxiety.