As the school semester comes to an end, students are starting to cram for their final exams. This brings up a heavy amount of test anxiety, which can cause failing grades and low levels of confidence.
According to American Psychiatric Association, anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders among U.S. adults and 30% of people have been affected by it at some point in their lives.
There are several types of anxiety disorders including, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobia disorder. Test anxiety is not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it can show up as another form of anxiety, such as the examples mentioned above.
Among college students 18 years and older, anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder, and it can impair learning and affect academic performance. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety in which the pressure of a good performance is so high, it causes people to be unable to do their best.
“In college, I had to take an F.E. exam where I did experience anxiety. Essentially, the F.E. exam is our Fundamental Engineering exam and it’s mandatory to take our senior year. I studied with a group of friends very hard, and I felt like I was the leader of our group, kind of studied a lot and when it came down to the test, I just panicked and had anxiety and it was a really tough time in college for me,” said William Borjorquez, a Design Engineer II and UTSA alum.
According to GoodRX Health, “Anxiety disorders don’t necessarily get worse with age, but the number of people suffering from anxiety changes across the lifespan.” Anxiety can develop in children as young as 3 years old and can impact people well in their 60s. Adults aged between 18 and 60 years of age have the highest rate of anxiety among all age groups and most adults who develop it as a child or as a teenager will redevelop it in their adult years.
“My first experience with test anxiety was probably in sixth grade when I had a math test. I’ve always been anxious with math and I just remember, I’d studied a lot and prepared a lot, and all of a sudden I couldn’t remember how to do any of the problems, and even the really easy stuff I started to blank out and it just spiraled and keep getting worse and worse throughout the test,” said Liza Poel, a nursing student at Austin Community College.
Anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms include, sweaty hands, difficulty breathing and concentrating and a racing heart. Leading up to an exam, it is important to be clear one’s mind in order to make clear decisions.
“Some symptoms of test anxiety that I experience is being really hot and my hands are super sweaty, and I have butterflies in my stomach cause my heart is racing really bad,” said Poel.
In order to minimize anxiety during exams, it is recommended to study ahead in order to feel more confident going into the test. Establish a consistent pretest routine and try to spend time studying in the same or similar place where the test is taken to help recall the information needed on the test and to ease your stress levels.
Poel said before exams she likes to relax before she goes to take her test by listening to calming music, watching shows she likes and going to bed early the night before.
Sleep is very important and getting a good night’s rest the night before will help with memory and concentration during the exam. Put electronics and other distractions out of sight in order to have a restful sleep. When an anxious feeling occurs, focus on your breathing and take big deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
The two main parts of the brain that are involved in anxiety are the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. When anxiety occurs, the amygdala, the emotional core of the brain, senses a threat and surges the body with hormones and adrenaline. This is known as the fight or flight response. The prefrontal cortex is in charge of learning and logical, rational thinking.
“Some people have more test anxiety than others because of their poor studying habits and poor test performance”, said Leslie Guzman, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and psychology graduate.” Those people also have “an underlying anxiety disorder that makes them more susceptible to test anxiety,” said Guzman.
Symptoms can be identified by taking a simple self-assessment quiz that will give results on the level of anxiety experienced. While this test gives a confirmation of anxiety, only a mental health professional can diagnose and affirm the disorder. For additional resources, visit https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health.