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How do I overcome my test anxiety? Tips and strategies

frequently asked Questions

The alpha and omega of overcoming exam anxiety is very good exam preparation. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you can go into the exam. So start one early Create a learning plan and learn the material during the semester. In the exam phase itself, you will notice how much is still in your mind.

Reduce your own expectations and speak to parents and friends if you feel they are putting on too much pressure.

Create the perfect exam situation for yourself and have breakfast what you like to eat and put on the clothes in which you feel comfortable. Little by little you will be able to reduce your test anxiety.

Tip: Sometimes talking to your doctor can help!

Everyone knows the typical excitement before an important exam in their studies. However, exam anxiety goes much further and complicates the lives of thousands of students. As a rule, the body tenses up during or even before the exam, presentation or in the colloquium and what has previously been learned is suddenly forgotten. Physical symptoms can include diarrhea, sweats, and panic attacks.

Homeopathic remedies can really help you with exam anxiety to bring you down in the exam situation. Get advice from a pharmacy and explain in which situation you need the product. Because some things, such as valerian, could make you very tired, which would be counterproductive on an exam.

But do not forget that these remedies are not the real ones Exam preparation and this can sometimes be even more helpful.

Exam anxiety arises from many factors: your own expectations, expectations of parents and the environment, time pressure, too much material, etc. If you want to conquer your exam anxiety, you should deal with these factors and try to minimize their influence.

If you notice on the day of the exam that you are really unable to take notes, you can of course take sick leave. However, this should by no means become the rule and should always be carefully discussed with your family doctor.

What to do if you are anxious about exams?

Facts about exam anxietyProcedure for exam anxiety
Exam anxiety arises from negative thoughts and ideas.Calm yourself down:
"I was preparing for the exam. It would be annoying if I screwed up the exam, but my life would go on.
Our brain can only perform when we not too indifferent and not too tense are.Think positive:
Talk to yourself well and gain confidence to overcome your test anxiety!
When exam anxiety gets out of hand, do something about it!Breathing exercise for calming: Breathe in and out deeply without holding your breath. Then hold your breath for six to ten seconds. Keep doing this breathing exercise until you feel more relaxed.

More and more students - but also schoolchildren - are affected by exam anxiety (cf. Holm-Hadulla 2001; Knigge-Illner 2002: 46). The problem with exam anxiety is that it is usually associated with a loss of performance. Moderate exam anxiety - in the form of some stage fright or excitement - is actually beneficial during an exam situation.

Relationship between exam anxiety and performance

But as soon as exam anxiety persists too long and intensely and triggers a loss of control or an avoidance attitude, remedies against exam anxiety should be sought. The following graph (the Yerkes Dodson Law) shows the extent of test anxiety. Most success can be achieved in the middle area:

What is exam anxiety?

Who does not know that? The closer the exam date comes, the more the fear of the exam, the excitement, the racing heart, just thinking about it! The impending avoidable catastrophe can be felt.

Hot flashes, thoughts of failure, nausea - if you suffer from such test anxiety, you should urgently do something about it, otherwise not only you will suffer but also your test result.

If you are under test anxiety, that is, “excessive fear limited to the test situation, which is associated with psychological and / or vegetative symptoms, eg [a] feeling of emptiness in the head, palpitations, sweating, vomiting etc. and in many cases too leads to avoidance or failure ”(Bensberg; Messer 2014: 211), if you suffer, you are not alone.

Test yourself for exam anxiety!

  • I feel like I'm more excited than others before exams.
  • It seems to me that my reactions to assessment situations are so strong that they negatively affect my test result.
  • My fear prevents targeted preparation for critical situations (e.g. concentration problems when studying before exams)
  • Out of fear I avoid evaluation situations and postpone e.g. exams, applications, etc.
  • It seems to me that I can cope with or endure evaluation situations more easily with alcohol or sedatives.
  • I get scared when I think about upcoming exam situations.
  • I experience my fear in and of such situations as so stressful that I spend a lot of time to reduce this unpleasant feeling and its physical side effects (cf. Metzig; Schuster 1998: 20).

If any of the above apply to you, skip the section on strategies and remedies for test anxiety.

Strategies & means

Exam anxiety manifests itself on several levels:

  • cognitive level: Distorted perception from negative thoughts
  • emotional level: Exam anxiety as very uncomfortable tension
  • physical level: Reaction of the body to test anxiety situations with psychophysiological symptoms
  • action level: The person affected by exam anxiety tries to escape the situation

Most of the time, one of these levels of test anxiety dominates. Exam anxiety is mostly triggered by negative thoughts (see Bensberg; Messer 2014: 217).

Means against test anxiety on the cognitive-thought level

If exam anxiety prevents you from concentrating on the subject matter because annoying, negative thoughts keep popping up, you should first write them down. When you have it in front of you in writing, you can question it critically. This gives you the necessary distance from such distorted thoughts and thus also from exam anxiety (cf. ibid .: 118f.).

The following example shows you possible negative thoughts and a critical questioning of the so-called two-column technique (ibid.):

Negative thoughtsPositive thoughts
"I can't remember anything!""If I really couldn't remember anything, I would not have passed the Abitur"
"I have to throw up in the exam!""I've never felt so sick that I vomited, so it's not likely that it will happen."

If you have reflected on your thoughts in this critical but realistic way, you definitely end with a “positive self-instruction” (ibid.).

Positive self-instructions are positive thoughts that you can say to yourself to prevent exam anxiety, such as the following: "I have at least as good a memory as my fellow students!"; “My stomach is not playing tricks on me!” (Ibid.). The following statements can help you to have positive self-talk to avoid test anxiety in the first place.

Don't let exam anxiety arise: Have positive self-talks (Pohl 2010):
“I can no longer fill all of my knowledge gaps, but it would be better if I start learning today than to wait any longer. Every day I study brings me closer to exam success. "
“I don't have to know everything to pass the exam. There are people who have passed exams with gaps. A bit of luck is part of it. "
“My brain works better than any computer. If nothing goes in at the moment, it's probably because I have to take a break. "
“It's totally unlikely that I won't get a word out of the exam. Thinking blocks dissolve again. "
"I am not at the mercy of the examiner because he only decides on a grade, not on my life."
"If I don't understand a question straight away, I try to remain calm and ask the examiner for an explanation."
“Auditors are human too and understand my excitement. If I have a blackout, I will inform the examiner and ask for a moment to postpone it. "
“It's totally unlikely that I won't get a word out of the exam. Thinking blocks dissolve again. "
“The exam grade alone does not determine my future. There are many other criteria that influence professional success. "
“Failing an exam will not make me a failure. If someone claims that, he is superficial, and I tell him that too. "
“The other examinees also have test anxiety and don't know any more than I do. I have no reason to make myself small. "
“I can live with an exam that went less well. It is up to me whether I forgive myself for a mistake or lug around with me for years. "
“I have already successfully passed exams. I know that I can do it. "

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Means against test anxiety on the emotional level

We humans are able to experience the feelings of joy, fear, anger / anger and sadness. Exam anxiety is dominated by fear, sometimes also anger (not infrequently towards yourself). Emotions arise from thoughts, fears or their interpretations (cf. Bensberg; Messer 2014: 219ff.).

Tip: Get as much information as possible about the examiners from older fellow students for an upcoming oral exam. Which questions do people like to ask, is the examiner rather strict / conservative / precise or actually not that bad at all?
Before written exams, it is worth taking as many test exams as possible (these are often available from the student councils) (very often similar or even the same questions come up!).

So when the negative thoughts that provoke test anxiety defused the corresponding feelings will also arise. In addition to the critical reflection of one's own thoughts, there are other remedies against test anxiety on an emotional level, namely the reward and the success fantasies.

The following considerations can help you to find pleasant rewards (but make sure that the reward phase only lasts as long as it is compatible with your learning plan ...) (cf. Bensberg; Messer 2014: 220):

How can I reward myself after studying?

  • People: Are there people you would like to spend more time with but never had the chance?
  • Places: Are there places where you want to spend time but never had the chance?
  • Items: Are there any items that you would like to own and that you could afford?
  • Activities: Are there any activities that you would like to do more often?

Consciously used success fantasies help you to maintain a positive mood and thus overcome test anxiety. It is only important to make the fantasies realistic, for example as in the following example (ibid.):

Success fantasies as a remedy for exam anxiety:

For example, you put yourself in the imagination of the exam situation and imagine how you solve one exam question after the other, how you leave the room beaming at the end and finally get a good grade. Or you can visualize how you confidently answer the questions during the oral exam, so that the examiners are impressed and at the end tell you with a smile that you passed with a great result.

Means against test anxiety on the physical level

On a physical level, fear of exams is expressed through strong palpitations, sweating, paleness or reddening of the face, dry mouth, stomach problems or nausea and vomiting, tremors or muscular tension (see Bensberg; Messer 2014: 221ff.).

Important: These physical effects of exam anxiety are uncomfortable, but not dangerous, but rather result from overactivity of the autonomic nervous system.

Reduction of exam anxiety on a physical level:

  • autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation or yoga
  • Breathing techniques → help with tension, stress and test anxiety
  • Regular physical exercise → makes you more balanced, improves sleep and thus avoids test anxiety

If all of these remedies for exam anxiety are not enough and you still have high blood pressure or other severe symptoms, you should see a doctor.

If you suffer from exam anxiety, it is often associated with sleep disorders (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep). You should observe these important rules so that you have good "sleep hygiene" and can overcome your test anxiety (cf. Riemann 2000: 503):

Rules for preventing insomnia from exam anxiety
1. Compliance with a regular sleep-wake cycle:Constant times to go to bed and get up, regardless of when to fall asleep and, if possible, no daytime sleep (if so, then regularly).
2. Creating a positive attitude towards bedtime: Through relaxation exercises, sleep rituals, getting up in the event of agonizing insomnia, not looking at the clock, not working or eating in bed.
3. Gradual decrease in mental and physical tension before bed: By avoiding strenuous physical or mental activities in the evening and performing relaxation exercises in the evening (physical activities in the morning if possible)
4. Switching off external and internal sources of interference:Noise insulation, comfortable temperature, avoidance of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and heavy meals in the late afternoon and evening.

Means against test anxiety on the behavioral level

Confrontation or exposure is used in behavior therapy to overcome fear by confronting fearful situations. This method can also be used for test anxiety. By consciously experiencing and perceiving exam anxiety - and not suppressing the exam anxiety - "the chain of automatically running, catastrophic assessments" (ibid .: 223) is defused.

After confronting and persevering in this situation of exam anxiety, the goal is to experience the situation as actually harmless and definitely manageable (cf. Bensberg; Messer 2014: 223ff.).

Opportunities for confrontation to overcome exam anxiety (see ibid.)Details on the method of overcoming exam anxiety
Participation in mock exams to overcome exam anxiety- Are offered in some faculties by the student council or chair.
- Can also take place as part of a study group.
Important: Create the most realistic examination conditions possible.
Participate in exam simulations to overcome exam anxietySome lecturers offer this for oral exams.
Important: Persevering in the situation until the test anxiety diminishes. Do not distract yourself from the fear of exams, but consciously notice.
Tip: Have a look at the exam room in which the exam will take place in an emergency beforehand. Familiarity is the greatest enemy of exam anxiety!
Role play as a simulation of oral exams to overcome exam anxiety- Role play should anticipate the dreaded situation again and again and thus make it possible to cope with it more and more competently. Problematic behaviors can be corrected and new ones practiced. By repeating the exam situation, exam anxiety can be reduced and overcome.
- Some lecturers offer role-plays, but they can also be carried out in learning groups.
Important: Carry out the role-play with normal-difficult and then with very difficult questions. In this way you can practice your behavior in stressful situations and reduce your test anxiety.
Mental confrontation to overcome exam anxiety- First put yourself in a relaxed state and then guide yourself into the situation in front of your inner eye that is the greatest test fear.
- Imagine how you solve first easy and then increasingly difficult exam questions calmly, concentrated, self-confidently and confidently. As a conclusion, you can also competently solve an extremely complex exam question.

Always get feedback after these exercises:

The feedback should include the following points (see ibid .: 224f.):

1. How did the examinee feel in the situation, how did he experience it? In which moments was he bad or good?

2. What strengths (including non-verbal cues) did the examinee show?

3. Which weaknesses can be named, how can they be eliminated? Why is the behavior problematic to assess? What suggestions for exercises and improvements are there?

Avoid exam anxiety

In addition to all means and strategies against exam anxiety, good exam preparation is still essential to prevent exam anxiety. The biggest hurdle in exam preparation has to be overcome right at the beginning ... If you have made it to the beginning, you should follow a few rules in order to make the exam preparation as effective as possible:

Preventing exam anxiety: how do you study properly? (see Pohl 2010: 114f.)
Structured daily routine with well-dosed learning units. (Realistic!) Learning plans with daily or weekly rations help to organize the material and it becomes clear how much time is left.
After the work is done: self-reward (good food, meeting friends, going to the cinema, etc.)
Self-written summaries help to understand the material more quickly.
A quiet place to study: libraries, empty cafés, quiet parks or a lockable study in a quiet apartment are suitable. Tip: switch off TV, music and mobile phone ...
According to the motto “A lot of half-knowledge becomes perfect knowledge”, learning groups can also be set up.
Successful learning groups are made up of three to four people, set goals, rules and the procedure to achieve them, make binding appointments and come prepared for them, have a positive atmosphere and praise each other once in a while (see FernUniversität in Hagen 2018) .

Tips against the blackout

Who does not know that? You are in the middle of an exam, have learned so much and have a really good feeling. But then the first question comes from the examiner and suddenly everything is blown away - you just can't think of anything you have learned. You have a so-called blackout. But what is it really?

A blackout “is a functional, non-organic memory disorder. The so-called fear network ‘is activated in the brain, a circuit between different parts of the brain […] that puts the body on alert” (Bensberg; Messer 2014: 225). A blackout can be explained physiologically by the fact that “the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood the brain” (ibid .: 226).

The consequence of this is what we perceive as a blackout: academic knowledge is no longer available or the questions - regardless of whether written or oral - are no longer understandable.

But: What has been learned is not erased in the event of a blackout, rather the transmission or retrieval processes are fear-related short term blocked!

In order to be able to overcome this situation of exam anxiety and to enable the retrieval processes of what has been learned again, the golden rule applies: "Create distance from the fear-inducing stimulus" (ibid.) (E.g. the exam or exam question). And in the next step, initiate a targeted relaxation process and “positive self-verbalization” (ibid.).

Overcoming exam anxiety: preventing blackouts (see ibid.)
Lower your own standards.
Try to relax and give positive self-instructions.
In the case of an oral exam, you can also tell the examiner that you have learned a lot, but cannot access anything at the moment. You can ask him to prefer another question.
The examiner will understand this and may even know blackout situations from their own exams.
Imagine a previous learning situation (in front of the inner eye). To evoke a memory of a situation in which one has appropriated and understood the material.
First answer a minor aspect of the question. The probability that you will remember the main aspect is then high.
For written exams: create a distance from the exam, e.g. by going to the toilet or looking out of the window.
For written exams: continue with another question

How does exam anxiety arise?

Exam anxiety can have very different causes. One possible cause of exam anxiety is an aversive experience that is invented to be very stressful and that leads to fears in connection with performance situations - such as being humiliated in front of class due to poor performance.

Exam anxiety is maintained through negative reinforcement, i.e. by postponing exams or avoiding frightening situations. The following figure shows possible triggers for test anxiety (see Rost; Schermer 1998):

Conclusion

"Only one thing makes his dream goal unattainable: the fear of failure." (From: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho)

  • First of all, it should be said that test anxiety is not an “abnormal” feeling; fear is a vital human reaction.
  • The state of test anxiety takes place on several levels: on the intellectual, the emotional, the physical and the behavioral level. If you want to overcome your test anxiety, you can do it with certain strategies at these levels.
  • It is difficult to start, but good exam preparation counteracts exam anxiety!
  • Face your fears: Confrontation is often a very powerful strategy for reducing your test anxiety.
  • Don't be afraid of the blackout: A blackout is a temporary memory disorder that can be fixed!
  • Not every type of test anxiety needs to be treated therapeutically: There are strategies to bring the test anxiety to a tolerable level, but if these do not help and you cannot break out of the cycle of bad feelings and negative thoughts, you can get professional help to take.

References

Bensberg, G .; Messer, J. (2014). Survival guide Bachelor. Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Dahl, R .: "Breathing exercises and breathing techniques" in: Breathing exercises and breathing techniques, http://www.atemuebungen-atemtechniken.de/, accessed on May 13, 2018 ..

"Tips for setting up learning groups" in: FernUniverstiät in Hagen, https://www.fernuni-hagen.de/stz/stuttgart/download/tipps_zur_einrichtung_von_lerngruppen.pdf, accessed on May 13, 2018.

Holm-Hadulla, R. M. (Ed.) (2001). Psychological difficulties of students. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Knigge-Illner, H. (2002). Psychosocial problems of students through the ages from the perspective of psychological counseling. Group dyn. Organizational advice 1 (33). Pp. 43-56.

Metzig, W .; Schuster, M. (1998). Exam anxiety and stage fright. Prepare and master assessment situations. Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer.

Pohl, E. (2010). Don't panic about blackouts. Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag.

Riemann, G. (2000). Green recipe. Weinheim: Beltz-Verlag.

Rost, D. H .; Schermer, F. (1998). Anxiety to perform. In: Rost, D. H. (Ed.). Concise dictionary of educational psychology. Pp. 298-304. Weinheim: Beltz-Verlag.

"Exam anxiety" in: wikiwand, http://www.wikiwand.com/de/Pr%C3%BCfungsangst, accessed on May 14, 2018.

About the author

Cornelia Endres

Cornelia Endres (M.A.) is a doctoral candidate at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. During her studies at the University of Augsburg and at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, she wrote scientific papers and also supported fellow students. During her work at the Center for Applied Cultural Studies, she also gained valuable experience in scientific work. She is doing her doctorate in the field of "international joint venture cooperation". Ms. Endres gives tips and information on various research methods and the writing of scientific papers.