Exam anxiety: 10 tips to beat the mental block

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Exam anxiety: 10 tips to beat the mental block

Nervousness and palpitations before an important exam are completely normal. The inner tension, which manifests itself in physical and emotional discomfort, usually stops on its own as soon as the situation is over. In the case of test anxiety, a special form of fear that belongs to the fears of failure, the situation is somewhat different.

It is estimated that nearly half of all students are affected by test anxiety. Most experience the Fear before an important paper, an exam or a test as a great burden or even as something threatening. Exam nerves are often associated with the Stage frightThe actors' feelings before the big performance are compared to those of the actors themselves.

Mental block during the exam

True test anxiety, however, is much more extreme. When the brain signals to the body that one is in an exceptional situation, it can lead to a variety of anxiety symptoms, to Panic attacks and, in the worst case, even a complete blackout. Failure to pass important exams is often due to test anxiety and not to a lack of knowledge. The mental block ensures that what has been learned can no longer be recalled.

The very thought of an exam triggers feelings of anxiety in many sufferers. What to do about exam anxiety? Have you already Fears feel when you take an exam? Fear of an exam is not destiny. Effective methods and measures can help to better deal with exam anxiety and manage the fear of failure.

What is test anxiety?

Fear of failing an exam, as a subtype, is one of the common Fears. Fear is a basic human emotion and actually serves to protect us from danger. However, when fear creates the illusion of threats that are in fact not threats, we speak of irrational fears.

Test anxiety occurs in connection with oral and written exams at school, at university or at work. It also catches up with you in all situations in which personal performance is evaluated. This can also be, for example, sports competitions or competitions in the hobby area.

True fear: Fear of failure

Mild test anxiety can even be beneficial, because the body concentrates its forces and mobilizes energies during anxiety. Strong anxiety, on the other hand, has a paralyzing effect and causes you to become nervous and unable to concentrate. Test anxiety refers to test situations that are perceived as frightening or threatening.

The real fear behind exam anxiety is the fear of failing, of not passing the exam, and thus of exceeding one's own expectations as well as the expectations of others (family, friends, teachers). disappoint. Possible causes of test anxiety are thought to be negative previous experiences such as a poor test result in the past, an unfavorable self-image or too high expectations of oneself.

overcoming exam anxiety

How does test anxiety develop?

Exam anxiety can occur very suddenly when you are already in the exam room. Most of the time, however, exam anxiety makes itself felt days or weeks before an important exam. Negative thinking patterns contribute to the fact that the fear gets worse and worse. Brooding about an upcoming exam often leads to obsessive thinking.

The Thought carousel begins to spin and thoughts such as: "I can't do this exam", "Everyone else is much better", "The subject matter is far too difficult" often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Exam anxiety thus builds up slowly and reaches its peak shortly before the exam date. You will feel the physical effects of the rising anxiety level in the form of palpitations, stomach pains, nausea or diarrhea.

The stronger the exam anxiety, the deeper your ability to remember and concentrate sinks. You suddenly can't remember learning content and fear that you won't remember the right answers during the exam. Feelings of panic can further deteriorate cognitive performance, so that in extreme cases a complete blackout occurs.

How do I recognize test anxiety? What are the symptoms?

An important exam can decide the rest of your life, your career and the fulfillment of professional dreams. It is therefore normal to worry, feel stress, be nervous or excited.

If the test situation is perceived as a threat, this is a sure sign of test anxiety. Learning stress coupled with Fear of failure and perfectionism can lead to anxiety that manifests itself on a physical and emotional level through a wide variety of symptoms.

In a fearful situation, the body prepares to react accordingly to protect us from the perceived danger. In this natural reaction, stress hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are increasingly released.

Common symptoms of test anxiety are:

  • Circulatory problems
  • Tachycardia
  • Inner tension
  • Nervousness
  • Concentration disorders
  • Digestive problems
  • Sweats
  • Memory disorders (up to blackout)

Which people are prone to test anxiety?

When it comes to stress, everyone reacts differently. While some can handle stressful phases well, others feel overwhelmed in difficult situations. However, test anxiety does not only affect anxious and insecure people, but often learners who have mastered the subject matter perfectly and would actually have no reason to be afraid of the exam.

Perfectionists who have high expectations of themselves and do not allow themselves to make any mistakes are more prone to test anxiety than self-confident students who are realistic about their abilities. An optimistic basic attitude can protect against irrational fears and make it easier to deal with anxiety.

The following factors promote test anxiety and increase the risk of total blackout:

  • Excessive level of expectation with regard to performance
  • Tendency to negative self-criticism
  • Fear of failure
  • Unfavorable control beliefs
  • Too little Self-confidence
  • Lack Motivation

The fear of not passing an exam is intensified by unfavorable thoughts. Inadequate exam preparation can also trigger or promote anxiety.

10 tips to get exam anxiety under control

Test anxiety can affect anyone. When fears paralyze brain activity, the performance that would actually be possible is not achieved on the exam. What can be done against test anxiety? With simple but effective methods, the fear of failing an important exam can be overcome. Even the dreaded blackout can be prevented.

These ten tips will help you finally get a grip on test anxiety:

  1. Take inventory
  2. Review your exam preparation
  3. Find out the cause of your fear
  4. Familiarize yourself with the exam situation
  5. Think positive
  6. Strengthen your self-confidence
  7. Relax you
  8. Self-care
  9. Role-playing games
  10. Make sure you get enough sleep

At the beginning of every exam preparation is a realistic inventory. Do you know the exact requirements of the exam? Find out which topics will be asked on the exam. This will enable you to prepare in a targeted manner. Are there any gaps in your knowledge?

Allow enough time to study. Make sure that you are not disturbed while practicing. Develop an individual work and training program and divide the learning units into small sections. Check your progress regularly.

Find the cause of your test anxiety

What to do about test anxiety? Do you want to Anxiety before an exam, it is important to first find out the causes of your fear. Do you feel pressured, are you afraid of failing, or do you find the exam too demanding? At this point, you might be able to find a Coaching Bring clarity. But also regular meditation, in which you feel into your fear and face it, bring more and more calm to your exam anxiety.

Depending on the reasons that led to your test anxiety, a suitable strategy against the fear of failure can be developed.

Knowing the exam situation is an advantage and can reduce anxiety. Find out how the exam is expected to proceed, which aids are permitted and how much time is available for answering the exam questions. If you know the general conditions, it is much easier to prepare specifically for the exam.

Positive thinking attracts positive results

Positive thinking helps in all life situations. Think positive and consciously avoid unfavorable thought patterns. Praise yourself instead of putting yourself down. You made it to the exam! Think about your successes and imagine how it feels to hold the exam certificate in your hands. An old saying is that a positive mindset attracts positive events.

Strengthen your self-confidence. Trust your own abilities. A strong sense of self-confidence gives you a sense of security, so your test anxiety goes down. Acting actively helps to maintain a healthy Self-esteem to develop. Avoid excessive expectations, because they weaken your self-confidence.

Few people manage to calm down before an important exam. Exam anxiety symptoms such as palpitations, headaches or nervousness prevent us from relaxing. Nevertheless, relaxing is very important because it helps the body and soul to reduce stress hormones more quickly. Breathing consciously intensifies relaxation. For exam anxiety, yoga exercises, meditation and autogenic training optimally suitable.

Self-care: build in breaks

The days leading up to an exam can be stressful and exciting. Instead of over studying and doing household chores, self-care should be on the agenda now. Take your own Needs seriously and build regular breaks into your daily routine.

Watch for healthy eating and sufficient sleep. During the nighttime sleep phases, the brain processes all newly acquired information. What is learned is stored in the Memory stored. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, reduces the brain's ability to absorb information.

What helps against exam anxiety? Role plays have proven to be helpful in preparing for exams. Possible exam questions and critical situations during an exam can be acted out with friends, fellow students or family members. Role-playing helps you learn how to answer questions spontaneously and how to better deal with problems that may arise during an exam.

Tips against nervousness in the oral exam

In the oral exam, the fear of failing is often more pronounced than in the written part of the exam. The reason for this is that oral questions have to be answered immediately. There is hardly any time to think. A correct answer earns more points, while the wrong answer to a question can, in the worst case, have an unfavorable impact on the exam result.

Take enough time to answer the questions. Simple breathing exercises help to reduce stress and to concentrate on what you have learned. Make sure you don't just reel off your knowledge, use technical terms in the right places and support your statements with clear examples.

Use your body language by smiling when answering questions. This will make you look competent and confident. Your appearance is also very important at an examination. With a confident, friendly appearance, correct expression and appropriate clothing, you will make a positive impression. A confident appearance helps you to radiate competence and sovereignty during the oral exam.

Direct eye contact with the examiners is more convincing than an evasive look. Avoid nervous fidgeting, as this behavior is interpreted as insecurity. A confident appearance includes the targeted use of gesticulating hands to effectively emphasize spoken arguments.

What to do in case of blackout?

What to do when all the horror scenarios and disaster expectations actually come true during an exam? A blackout can paralyze you at the decisive moment. You simply can't remember the simplest words or phrases you've memorized beforehand. Extreme test anxiety prevents you from delivering top performance.

To avoid the dreaded blackout, it is important to prepare carefully for the exam. Banish anxiety-producing thoughts, because they promote horror fantasies. Replace negative thought patterns with helpful thoughts. Statements such as: "I am well prepared and looking forward to the exam," "I know I can do it," and "I have already mastered many challenges in my life" are suitable mantras against exam anxiety.

A blackout is a blockage in thinking that can be dissolved by conscious, deep breathing and other proven relaxation methods. Against the exam blackout also helps mental training. Mental training involves the targeted, conscious and systematic use of thoughts and feelings.

The discipline of thought causes a significant increase in performance. Mental training is often used in professional and sporting contexts to achieve peak performance. Positive thoughts protect against negative thought circles, so that blackouts do not occur in the first place.


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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