Exam Anxiety- How stressing can they be?

Exam Anxiety- How stressing can they be?

Exam Anxiety - How Stressing Can They be?

Medically reviewed by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD

Last updated date : January 27, 2022

Exams can be a joy for some students; revision is incredibly easy for them, and they can nail an exam with their eyes closed. On the other hand, others are used to shaky hands and chest pains, and it all seems harder than sitting down and reviewing. Exam anxiety or stress hits most students in different ways. It’s vital to cope with this stress and seek simple ways to reduce the risk of burnout.

Chapter 1 :
What does Exam Anxiety Feel Like?

Do you experience exam anxiety too? If you are a student, getting ready to burn the midnight oil, preparing for the upcoming tests at schools or at university, most likely you are stressed. There is a certain set of physical traits as well as mental features that would allow us to identify the exam stress.

Split image of a student managing exam anxiety by meditating and reading for leisure

The signs and symptoms of test anxiety can range from small to severe. Some students  have minor test anxiety symptoms and are nonetheless able to do well on exams. Others are almost crippled by their worry, resulting  in bad test results or even panic attacks before or during exams.

Physical Symptoms of test anxiety include:

  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Shaking

Exam anxiety can trigger “butterflies” in the stomach in mild situations, while more severe cases might cause students to become physically ill. Before a test, some people may vomit or have diarrhea.

Exam anxiety can cause a variety of emotional symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Feelings of despair
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inadequacy feelings
  • Fidgeting
  • Distress

Students tend to feel powerless to change their situations, or they blame and criticize themselves for their symptoms and poor test results.

The following are examples of cognitive and behavioural symptoms:

  • Stopping tests at all costs.
  • Feeling of self-doubt
  • Forgetfulness
  • Pessimistic self-talk

Exam anxiety can sometimes get so intense that kids would drop out of school to avoid the cause of their anxiety. Many students try to self-medicate their anxiety with depressants like prescription medicines and alcohol, leading to substance dependence.

Exam anxiety makes it very difficult to concentrate during an exam. Many people with Exam anxiety report blanking out on answers to the test even though they thoroughly studied the information and were sure that they knew the answers to the questions. Negative self-talk, trouble concentrating on the test, and racing thoughts are also common cognitive symptoms of exam anxiety.


Chapter 2 :
Causes for Exam Anxiety

Many causes would lead you to stress out about the upcoming exams. There are many mental factors and many biological or physical factors that can play a role in this condition. Here are some of the reasons you feel stressed about the examinations you are about to face.

Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do”
Benjamin Spock

Parental pressure

“Why can’t you study like Stacey? Barney’s test results are so good this year. Be more like him”

Does the above scenario sound familiar? Parents often try to compare your performance with that of your siblings or close friends. While this can be a nightmare for a child of young age, it can be the main source of their exam anxiety.

Students often feel stressed when preparing for examinations due to pressure from school and family due to constant competition, and comparison with peer groups and good performers. Managing this stress is a big concern among young pupils. In order to make children get higher  academic results, parents criticize children by comparing them with better performers in family, friends and society, which makes students panic about exams. Parents force children to study with no relaxation time, resulting in students’ panic, feeling neglected, and eventually falling emotionally collapsed.

When unable to meet their parents’ expectations and pressured by society to be the best, students lower their self-confidence in themselves and start to develop a feeling of insecurity and suffer from depression and other mental health problems. The frequent pressure on students to reach good standards leads to self-harm and mental health problems among kids who get discouraged and disillusioned. Parental pressure is a major factor, as the majority of parents put pressure on their children by expecting them to achieve only the highest grades.

The fear of failing

The strain you place on yourself if you link your feeling of self-worth to your test scores might lead to significant test anxiety. Exam stress can also be caused by carelessness and overconfidence, leading to consequences such as a lack of preparation time and distraction when studying. Every child has his or her method of understanding things, and teaching pedagogy plays a huge role in the development of knowledge among pupils. Difficult assignments, overburdened homework, and constant tests increase internal strain, which leads to demotivation and overwhelming situations, causing students to lose focus when studying. Students spent more than five hours on social media, the primary cause of time spent away from the classroom.

Overscheduling study plans with personal time causes students to be unhappy, stressed, and frustrated in their efforts to complete assignments, prepare for exams, and receive good academic grades. They eventually lose focus in their efforts to excel in academia when they are unable to achieve success even then.

Over expectation causes exam anxiety

One key mental factor is expectations. For example, if a student believes she will do poorly on an exam, she will be much more worried before and during the exam. Exam anxiety can also spiral out of control.

When students experience anxiety during one exam, they may become so afraid that it will happen again that they become even more anxious for the next exam. After experiencing test anxiety on multiple occasions, students may come to believe that they have no control over the situation, a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.

Past test results

Another main cause of exam stress is the past experiences of bad test results. Suppose as a child you were in a car accident; even as an adult, you may feel uncomfortable travelling in a car. Suppose you’ve previously performed poorly on tests, either because you didn’t study enough or because you were so nervous that you couldn’t recall the answers. In that case, this might lead to higher anxiety and a negative attitude whenever you have to take another one.

Other biological causes for exam anxiety

In addition to the underlying mental causes of anxiety, the body releases adrenaline in stressful conditions, such as before and during an exam. This is known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction because it helps the body prepare for what happens. This response essentially prepares you to either stay and deal with the stress or to flee the situation completely.

This adrenaline rush can be beneficial in many situations. It assists you in properly dealing with stressful situations by keeping you aware and ready. However, for some people, anxiety symptoms might grow so severe that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to concentrate on the test.

Symptoms like nausea, sweating, and trembling hands can make people feel even more anxious, especially if they are obsessed with these test anxiety symptoms.

Chapter 3 :
Ways to Overcome Exam Anxiety

Here are some helpful ideas for reducing stress and ensuring that you get through exam season.

1. Plan some “me time”

According to research, creating small goals that we can achieve and rewarding ourselves when we achieve them increases our chances of success. Even the busiest exam schedules will leave some time for a study break. This can include 20-minute breaks throughout your revising day as well as lengthier activities that you might anticipate. Go out to dinner with friends, to the movies, to a concert, or to anything else you enjoy doing in your spare time to divert your attention away from your tests. You will feel more refreshed and calm the next time you revise if you take a break from the books.

While sleeping and eating are essential, as is spending time with friends, you should also schedule something that will serve as a reward and goal to help you stay motivated throughout the day. Don’t forget to take a break whether you’re going for a jog, having dinner with friends, or simply watching your favorite TV show.

Schedule them in, and then go have some fun if you’ve accomplished your goals for the day.

2. Get some exercise

Exam season seems to arrive just as the weather begins to improve, which is one of the most annoying things about it. Take advantage of this by going for a walk or a run, or visiting the gym or swimming pool. Exercise is believed to improve your attitude and help you be more productive while reviewing, in addition to keeping you healthy.

Take a few deep breaths. If you start to feel anxious during your test, deep breathing can help you relax. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale deeply through your mouth. Work your way through each issue or problem one at a time, pausing to take a deep breath as needed. Making sure you’re getting enough oxygen into your lungs can help you focus and relax.

3. Focus on studying

While it is beneficial to discuss subjects with classmates and  revise together frequently, avoid comparing your revision to that of others. You’re probably doing well, and listening to others talk about what they’ve learned will  stress you out and make you feel like you’re not developing as quickly as they are. Plus, if they are stressed, they can easily make use of it to scare you too. You don’t need anyone else’s worry right now.

We all know that college is about more than just studying; it’s also about learning to embrace your independence and having a vibrant social life with your peers. Even if you’ve slacked off on your reading this semester, now is the time to buckle down and get to work.

Summarize your notes

Re-reading textbook chapters, taking practice quizzes, and re-reading one’s class notes are all common study techniques. Rewriting or summarizing both your classroom notes and textbook chapters is something you should try if you haven’t already.

According to research, this method aids in the learning of the subject matter. It can also assist you in synthesizing the chapter’s or class’s primary concepts. It may appear time-consuming or even meaningless at first, but it’s a basic strategy that you can try to see whether it works for you.

Shut down social media and gaming

During finals week, being hooked to your phones and computers will most likely be your largest distraction. When it comes to learning new stuff, we don’t multitask as well as we think.

Turn everything off. During your exam season, turn off Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, etc. If you absolutely must check in with Emails or Twitter, set aside time to do so and only do so within that set time. Believe me when I say that if you’re a little more out of contact than normal, your pals will understand as they must do so too.

4. Open up to someone

If the stress becomes too much for you to handle and is hurting your daily life, try talking to someone about it. Your university or school should have a facility where you can talk to someone about your worries and get more information on how to deal with them. If it seems like too much, talk with a family member or a friend about the stress you’re under. You’ll be relieved to learn that you’re not alone in your feelings.

5. Avoid perfectionism

Avoid falling into the perfectionism trap. Expect to fall short of perfection. We’re all going to make errors, and that’s fine. It’s more important to know that you tried your hardest and did your best than it is to be perfect. Negative thoughts must be banished. Push fearful or negative thoughts aside and replace them with optimistic ones, such as “I’m not good enough,” “I didn’t study hard enough,” or “I can’t do this.” “I can do this,” “I know the content,” and “I studied hard” can all go a long way toward reducing exam anxiety.

6. Get enough sleep

Your focus and memory will benefit from a good night’s sleep. Make certain you’re ready. That means you should start studying for the test as soon as possible until you are comfortable with the content. Don’t leave it till the last minute. If you’re not sure how to study, get assistance from your teacher or parent. Being well-prepared will increase your self-assurance, lowering your exam anxiety.

Sleep is the body’s and brain’s way of recharging their cells. Sleep allows your brain cells to regenerate, and studies suggest that people who don’t receive enough sleep do poorly on cognitive and memory activities. All of this points to the disadvantages of pulling an all-nighter. If you feel compelled to do something, try not to do it more than once.

7. Eat adequately

Your mind needs energy to function, just as it requires sleep to restore crucial neural connections. Food gives us energy, so skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner may seem like a smart idea, but you’re putting yourself at a loss.

Eating also provides you with something else valuable: time away from your studies and the opportunity to socialize with your peers. While you may need to adjust your priorities and spend more time studying during finals week, this does not imply you should cut out all social activities. Simply do it while doing something else you need to do, such as eating.


Chapter 4 :
A Word Before Farewell

While cramming  24/7 may appear to work for some people, it is not a reliable or successful way to ace your finals. According to research, spreading out your studying over time is more beneficial than cramming. So cram if you have to, but next semester try something different. Instead of putting off doing your reading till the last minute, attempt to stay up with it throughout the semester.

After you’ve finished your examinations, take some time to think over how the semester went for you – what you could have done better  and what you can do better next time. There’s no point in repenting over your mistakes; nevertheless, you can learn from them.

Understanding what can raise your exam anxiety can be an obvious help for you when dealing with it.  Try following the tips I just laid off for you, and you will be alright. While these tips aren’t intended to be in-depth, they may give you some ideas that you’d need this time around. 

Best wishes for your tests!


What does exam stress feel like?

Why do you experience exam stress?

How to handle exam stress?