Coping With Anxiety During Exams

As all educators can attest, many students experience heightened anxiety, fear, and nervousness, when taking exams. These stressful emotions often arise from the recognition that exams present negative situations that need to be dealt with. Exam taking does not begin as a negative experience. As students mature, they become aware of what exams are, what it means to earn grades, and what the consequences may be if they do not perform well. This knowledge can lead to negative emotional and physiological responses such as anxiety, fear, heart palpitations, damp palms, feeling faint, rapid heartbeat, nausea, stomach pains, and headaches. Through repeated experiences, students learn to associate exams with distress and fear.

Educators can help students cope with such emotions by reinforcing that exam-anxiety is a universal experience that alerts a student to a negative situation that has to be dealt with. If the situation is not dealt with, it can become a negative feeling in student's perception, especially when an appropriate effective behavior is not immediately available. Teachers can guide students in how to learn effectively and cope with stressful feelings.

How can students learn to cope with fear and anxiety about exams?
Teachers can help students understand and learn about these negative emotions by developing an understanding of the following:

  1. Fear/anxiety are valuable tools used by our mind and body to alert us to negative situations and danger.

  2. These tools can help us protect ourselves from dangerous situations such as fear of being hit by a car, fear of violent situations, and fear of being hurt.

  3. What kind of anxiety is unrealistic?

    1. Try to determine what is causing the anxiety.

    2. Decide whether the anxiety is realistic - would it be foolish to be afraid?

    3. Figure out the worst thing that can happen

    4. Figure out the best outcome to hope for.

    5. Choose behaviors that are most likely to remove, change, or lessen the situation causing the anxiety.

Preparing for exams: In class, teachers often discuss valuable information about upcoming exams. Effective learning skills are crucial for better exam performance:

Teach students to listen carefully: Teachers can encourage students to pay particular attention to clues that indicate that the teacher might test for a particular idea.

Try to incorporate the following:

    1. Say something more than once

    2. Write material on the board

    3. Pause to review notes

    4. Ask questions of the class

    5. Say 'this will be on the test'

Encourage students to pay particular attention to points brought up in class.

Encourage students to network and share information about subjects.

Encourage students to study questions listed at the end of chapters.

Students can create flashcards. Some benefits:

    1. For definitions, formulas, lists

    2. Put topics on the front, answers on the reverse side

    3. Flashcards help students recognize important information

    4. Flashcards help students retrieve information when needed

Encourage students to use study guides to help them understand material. Learning is a continuous process. Much of material asked on exams is first covered in homework assignments. When doing homework, students can:

    1. Make a list of key points

    2. Mark particular chapters

    3. Mark important paragraphs

Encourage students to create summary notes that map out lists, and relationship between ideas.

Study checklists can help break down chapters into manageable sections, and allows students to review comprehensively with minimal anxiety.

Points to note before the exam:

  1. Being well prepared for the exam is the most effective coping skill for reducing anxiety.

  2. Exercising before exams often helps sharpen the mind.

  3. Students should be encouraged to get a good night's sleep.

  4. Encourage students to approach the exam with confidence. Exams are positive opportunities to show how much students have learned and receive rewards for the studying and preparation.

    1. Discourage students from taking exams on an empty stomach.

    2. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is often recommended to reduce stress.

  5. Stress may be increased if students eat certain foods such as processed foods, artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, eggs, fried foods, pork, red meat, sugar, white flour products, foods containing preservatives or heavy spices, chips and similar snacks.

  6. Encourage students to allow themselves plenty of time to finish doing tasks before the exam.

  7. Encourage students to relax just before the exam - last minute reviews often cause panic and fear.

Points to note during the exam:

  1. After carefully reading through the questions, encourage students to budget their exam-taking time.

  2. If students go blank or don't know an answer, it's helpful not to spend a great deal of time on that question, and to move to the next question.

  3. If students are taking an essay question and go blank on the test, it's helpful to pick a question and begin answering it. This often helps trigger answers.

  4. Changing sitting positions can help students relax.

  5. If a student starts to feel fearful or anxious, encourage them to take deep breaths, and concentrate on one question at a time.

  6. Encourage the class not to panic when students begin handing in their answer papers. There are generally no rewards for being the first student to finish.

Information has been compiled from various educational and counseling resources.

Professional Consultations: Educators need a great deal of support in school management and working with students' issues. To help students, educators can consult with Outreach Concern Regional Field Supervisors at any time - they have many resources on this issue. Outreach Concern research consistently indicates a significant positive correlation between receiving school counseling and elevated success in areas of academic performance, behavior, conduct, effort, and social skills. The Outreach Concern On-Campus Counselors can provide your students and their families with techniques, coping mechanisms, behavior management, learning tasks, and individual support in their academic and emotional needs.