May 13, 2024 3 min read

Unable to Maintain

It’s Friday morning and you got up on time, had a quick bite, and calmly walked up the stairs to your class with your tea, favourite muffin and a knot in your stomach preventing you from enjoying either. When your hand touches the knob and you open the door, there’s a hint of desperation and tension in the air. Except for a small few who are excited and adequately prepared, most of your peers, including you, are quietly dreading the moment your professor says - begin. Although you studied, your nerves tend to take over and you forget to breathe, you struggle to understand the questions you’ve read or skipped and, unfortunately, you rarely perform well on tests. Quiet rooms and a piece of paper deciding success or failure could make anyone nervous. If you’re unable to maintain your composure and perform at your best on test day, you might be experiencing test anxiety.

What’s Test Anxiety?

According to Anxiety Canada, while it’s perfectly normal to experience anxiety while preparing, during or after an exam, test anxiety is more severe because students are completely overwhelmed. The article mentions that too much anxiety can affect studying, learning, and your ability to demonstrate what you've learned. Symptoms can be physical such as headaches, nausea and sweating, or emotional including fear, depression, or helplessness. Behavioural symptoms cause fidgeting, pacing in extreme circumstances, substance abuse. In contrast, cognitive symptoms bring on racing thoughts, going "blank," and negative self-talk.

What Causes it?

A 2018 Oxford Learning blog called What Is Test Anxiety (And How It Affects Students), states “students who struggle with test anxiety typically fall a half a letter grade below their peers.” While test anxiety is common, for some students the fear can be debilitating enough to prevent them from achieving their academic goals and can also have detrimental effects on their mental health, self-esteem, confidence and motivation.

An article published in May of 2023 on Very Well Mind, titled What is Test Anxiety?, states that the condition can be brought on by poor study habits, a previous history of poor test performance, and anxiety below the surface. These stressful situations can make the student susceptible to it happening again and feeling like they have no control. The article lists some potential causes such as:

Fear of failure – If your self-worth depends on your academic performance, the pressure to constantly succeed may feed your fear and intensify test anxiety.

Poor testing history – If you regularly underperform on tests, whether you didn’t study enough or were overcome with anxiety, test anxiety may continue to overwhelm you as you progress.

Unpreparedness – Poor preparation whether intentional or not can contribute to or provide an opportunity for test anxiety to grow and become more detrimental in your life.

What can you do?

Academic tests are designed to assess what you’ve learned and determine if you’re able to apply the necessary knowledge to arrive at the intended solution or response. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, called Test anxiety: Can it be treated? worry and self-doubt can interfere with the test performance at any stage in our lives from students to professionals in the workforce. Luckily, according to the article, there are strategies you can employ to alleviate some of your stress and anxiety. Here’s our top five:

Learn to study efficiently. The more comfortable you are with the material, the more relaxed you’ll be when it’s test time. So, get familiar and practice the material that you will be tested on.

Study early and in similar places. Late night cramming sessions won’t help you perform at your best, nor will they help you learn the material. Studying in the same or similar places to where you will take the test can help you recall the information when you need it.

Learn relaxation techniques. Learn some relaxation techniques to keep calm and confident before and during the test, like deep breathing or imagining a positive outcome with your eyes closed.

Don't forget to eat and drink. Eat and drink plenty of water and avoid caffeinated beverages like energy drinks or coffee which can increase anxiety.

Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is vital to performing at your best so make sure to get a good night's rest.

Don’t Be Afraid

It won’t be easy to conquer test anxiety, but to realize your dreams, you’re going to have to find a way to handle or overcome it. There are five more techniques you can use mentioned in the article above to help you maintain your composure so you stop feeling trapped and can focus on showcasing what you’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to be honest about what you’re going through, because as Harlan Coben once said, “Sometimes the loudest cries for help are silent.” 


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