An-all-too-familiar scene: You attend all the classes, put in efforts to understand every concept, take down elaborate notes, and study every chapter. But the moment you think of exams, you have butterflies in your stomach. As the exam day approaches, this feeling turns into extreme distress and anxiety.
Sounds familiar? If your answer is a yes, you may be suffering from test anxiety or exam anxiety!
Exam anxiety or test anxiety disorder is a psychological condition. It causes an intense feeling of fear or panic beforehand and/or during the exams. It may be because of various situational or mental causes ranging from lack of exam preparation to poor self-esteem. Exam or test anxiety is of two types based on its severity.
Low anxiety: The low-anxiety victims are jittery about an impending exam situation but can focus on the exam preparation. This kind of tension can give you the right amount of an adrenaline rush to heighten your awareness, sharpen your reflexes, and allow you to perform to the best of your abilities.
High anxiety: People suffering from high anxiety show an extreme anxiety reaction such as insomnia, loss of appetite, freezing during tests, fear of failure, nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or even a full-fledged panic attack.
How to cope with Test anxiety?
If you or someone you know is suffering from test anxiety, there are several coping strategies to deal with it. Here are four easy strategies that can help you cope.
Deal with your thoughts:Change your perception of anxiety
If you watch the interview of Olympic athletes or the participants of any prominent athletic competition, reporters often ask them if they were nervous. The response from the athlete would mostly be, “No, I was excited!”
How is that possible? When their entire career is at stake, how can anyone be excited?Well, that is because athletes interpret their physical and mental stimuli differently. Accelerated heartbeat, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, that heart-in-the-throat feeling – all these are the symptoms of nervousness. But do you know these are the manifestation of excitement too?
According to renowned Harvard Business School psychologist Alison Wood Brooks, if you reframe the jitters as excitement, it can make you less anxious, more optimistic, and more resilient in stressful situations. So, now you know how to interpret your anxiety. The next time you feel nervous about exams, reframe the feeling and tell yourself: “I’m excited!”
Deal with physical tension: Relax and breathe
Often, we don’t breathe the way we are designed to breathe. The breathing process should involve the complete expansion of the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs) when we breathe in and contraction when we breathe out. Instead, we take short and shallow breaths, which limits our oxygen intake. If left unchecked, this shallow breathing pattern can lead to stress. This eventually creates tension and low-grade anxiety. Such issues can be avoided by deep breathing. Deep breaths lower your blood pressure and relax your muscles, and this, in turn, helps with recalling and recognising objects and concepts more effectively. This is backed by a 2016 study in The Journal of Neuroscience, which confirms the direct link between breathing patterns and the brain’s ability to recognize and recall information.
Before the exam
“It is the little details that are vital. Little things make bigger things happen.” Instead of aiming to crack the UPSC or any competitive exams at one go, prioritize on doing the little things the right way. It may be as basic as sticking to your schedule or studying the chapter on the day you planned. The compound result of doing these little things the right way leads to an increase in self-confidence and wards off nervousness on the day of the exam. In other words, if you do the little things, the important things will take care of themselves.
During the exam
Picture this. You are about half an hour into an exam. You see someone hand in their answer sheet and walk out with confidence. You look down at your answer paper. You are still inking down the answer to the second question, and you can feel the stress building.
“Maybe everyone is well-prepared except for me!” you tell yourself. “How can he finish the exam so soon? How did he find it so easy while I’m still stuck here?” you wonder.
When you are trapped in such a thought cycle, break out of it! Here is something you need to remember: No matter how many students finish their exams before you, you can still perform well and give it your best!So when you are in the exam hall, activate your tunnel vision and concentrate on your test. Focussing on anyone else is a waste of your time and energy.