Exam anxiety happens to everyone, but it does not freeze up everyone!
Amped up but not amped out of control!
Everybody feels a certain level of nervousness before an exam. The only ones who don’t are those who have an actual 100% certainty they will ace it, and the ones who do not care at all about the outcome.
That small amount of anxiety is called arousal. It is your internal systems getting you ready for something important. If the result of the exam means something to you, your mind will alert your body “It’s performance time, get ready!”
That is the good part of the story. If you feel this arousal, all it means that you are getting ready, and what is coming is important for you enough, that you will do your best to do well in it. In fact, it is useful: you don’t want to be cataleptic like when watching a movie or be falling asleep during your exam. The good intention of this feeling is, to get you ready, and put you into your top performance state so you can do your best.
At least that is the plan.
Sometimes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. And to continue with proverbs: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case the good intentions are your own: you want to do well on the exam. But having an excess desire of this will get some people to the point of excess preparation and extreme levels of stress.
It is a curious thing. Applying a little pressure gets you into a better position. Applying too much, starts to eat up the attention you would need to pay to take your exam. And extreme levels can get you to freeze up completely!
It is just like when you have something “on the tip of your tongue”: “What’s the name of that actor…?” You know that movie, the one with the thing in it, I know…?” You know that you know the answer. But the more you try, the less you remember the word/name/title! And when you remember it? When the conversation has changed topic or it’s completely over. Then “out of nowhere” the answer pops into your mind.
We forget when we try too hard to remember, and we remember when we are no longer under pressure to remember.
Consider what this means! Your memory works perfectly. In fact, you know you know the information you are trying to remember, but you cannot access it! As soon as the pressure is gone, your mind goes “Here it is! I had it the whole time, I just don’t like to be hard balled!”
This is exactly what happens in our mind during exam anxiety. Fortunately, there is a solution! You can learn to let go of the excess pressure, and become more like your other self, the one that learns and remembers naturally. Contact us to find out more about the different options on how to become free from exam anxiety!
How be free from exam anxiety?
There are plenty of solutions to exam anxiety, the question is which one?
Many people, students and adults suffer from performance anxiety. This describes a situation where a person that is perfectly capable of carrying out a task somehow blocks themselves from being able to do it. They might create enough fear about the task that they choose to avoid it completely. They may become nervous enough that they mess up the preparations for the task, thus making it impossible to carry out. They may get so worked up, that during the performance they freeze up or draw a mental blank.
A special case of this is exam anxiety. It is most notable among students, especially at the collage level. It still includes all possibilities, a student may psych themselves out so much they never turn up for the exam, they may erode their preparations by worrying, and end up completely unprepared for their exam. Or they might power through their fear, show up, then draw a blank during the exam due to their anxiety.
Clearly, this is a terrible situation to be in, and it can cost you a lot if you are suffering from it! Click here to read a little analysis on how much exam anxiety could cost (Internal link to how much does EA cost me).
There are plenty of recommendations on how to reduce, avoid or overcome exam anxiety. Here are the top 10 recommendations from the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/test-anxiety/faq-20058195)
- Learn how to study efficiently.
- Study early and in similar places.
- Establish a consistent pretest routine.
- Talk to your teacher.
- Learn relaxation techniques.
- Don’t forget to eat and drink.
- Get some exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Don’t ignore a learning disability.
- See a professional counselor, if necessary.
As you can see some focus on efficient study routines (“Learn how to study efficiently. Study early and in similar places. Establish a consistent pretest routine.”). These are crucial for your success.
If you are interested, this article (internal link to “How can the best study habits reduce exam anxiety?”) explores the best practices for the most efficient that give you the best results (by the way, they are NOT the “cram through all-nighters” and “stress to the max” strategies).
Taking good care of you body and mind is another important idea. (“Learn relaxation techniques. Don’t forget to eat and drink. Get some exercise. Get plenty of sleep.”) This is too often ignored by many students. Sometimes this is affected by bad study habits. If the only strategy is to push harder, than it might seem like an acceptable trade to sacrifice health and well being for better results. This should not be the case. (Seriously, check out the article about study habits!)
Asking for help is yet another part, that might be the most important of all. It may be academically speaking (“Talk to your teacher.”) or more specifically for personal issues (Don’t ignore a learning disability. See a professional counselor, if necessary.)
Understanding that there are ways in which you can improve as a person, become better, heathier, or more balanced is a powerful thing. There is nothing wrong with someone not having good strategies or having unexpected thoughts or feelings coming up, there is a solution. A mental health professional has learned through experience and accumulated knowledge how certain problems are created, and what are the best ways to find solutions.
You can get better!
I honestly believe that with the right kind of help and one’s own desire anyone can become a super-learner. You have learned many complex skills, at least one language, some social skills, some high level skills that you are good at and others might respect you for, even if you don’t recognize it, so you can also learn to do this with exams taking!
I have dedicated my time since 2008 to help people become better and free themselves of unnecessary or counterproductive thoughts and feelings. If you are struggling with exam anxiety, I would love to help you!
How much does exam anxiety cost me?
You might have suffered from it, think about how hard exam anxiety is on your wallet?
Test and exam anxiety is an insidious problem. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31.9% of adolescents suffer from anxiety disorders. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder) Since everybody wants to do to well on tests, and most students will experience some amount of stress. It is easy for anxious students to think that what they are experiencing is like what the others are experiencing. Then it becomes really difficult for them to understand why their own performance is worse than the others.
Many students will blame themselves, and try to “make up” for the effects of their debilitating anxiety with extra hours of cramming, and putting even more pressure on themselves. It can be a soul crushing experience slowly learning that they simply cannot provide the same results as others. It can be a very difficult task, and can be anybody’s guess how a student will interpret this kind of an experience.
These thoughts can come up easily:
- I am not good enough
- I hate studying
- I am not cut out for this
- Maybe this is the wrong career
- I have an awful memory
Thoughts like this are not actually solving the problem, and it adds an extra layer of weight and pressure to the already high workload that students have.
Suffering from test anxiety without treating it can end up costing in the following areas
- Direct cost
- Lost credits
- Repeated exam fees
- Additional tuition
- Indirect costs
- Deteriorating health
- Mental health costs
- Medication costs
- Extreme costs of failure
- Dropping out, missing out on opportunities, being forced into a different career or losing income brackets for the rest of their lives
The worst of all costs for me as a therapist as I see my clients who suffer from exam anxiety is to see them lose trust in themselves. On many occasions it breaks my heart to see how easily they feel less than others, or when they choose to generalize their lack of results in academia and start to believe it describes their value as a person or is stifles their trust in themselves to try other things in life.
If you are suffering from exam anxiety, please make sure that you allow yourself to get help. There are many possibilities to get help, from free resources, to reaching out to your school counselors, to private therapy to getting a determined and dedicated coach that will help you until you are definitely passing your exams.
You do have the capability to resolve any difficulty in your way of learning. You have improved over time in many things in your life. You are much more capable now in your favorite things then how you were when you started out. Why would learning itself be any different? You can learn how to be a super-learner and enjoy the process of doing so!
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