Few things are more frustrating than investing time and effort on an exam, only to get a grade way below expectations (or even fail it). A lot of factors come into play – the teacher may go crazy that year and fail everyone just because she feels like it, for example – but anxiety is usually to blame.
Student anxiety is a prevalent and crippling problem for a lot of students out there. The fear of failing classes, lowering GPAs, not getting accepted to a certain school or failing an entire year – it holds a lot of people back and lowers performance below their standards.
Anxiety, specifically student anxiety, can be put under control. It wasn’t born with you, there’s no such thing as a naturally calm person, I bet even Steve Jobs was nervous when delivering the first iPhone keynote. It’s possible to control your nerves and stop them from hindering your performance.
Change Your Mindset for Less Student Anxiety
As with Presentation Anxiety, already discussed in other posts and even in The Super Student’s Guide to Presentations, a lot of text-taking anxiety and student anxiety in general comes from a wrong mindset.
The right public speaking mentality
There are certain dogmas you need to get rid of, because they are just not true. The first one:
Failing is bad.
This is a completely false statement. In itself, failing is not good or bad, it’s just a subjective evaluation of your actions’ outcome. Countering this limiting belief is easy, just ask yourself So what?
- So what I failed this exam? I can try again next week or next semester.
- So what this teacher failed me? The teacher is mean because he is just a victim of his wife.
- So what?
Failing a test is failing as a student.
Again, this belief is deeply rooted in students’ brains. Think about it, when you fail a class, you feel like you haven’t done everything in your power to pass, you feel bad, you feel worthless. But is that true?
Failing as a student has nothing to do with the exam’s result. You would only fail if you prepared yourself poorly. Or if you didn’t prepare at all. But if you put in the time and effort, a failing grade is not failing per se, it’s a temporary setback.
Higher education is tough. A lot of great doctors, lawyers, engineers, psychologists and professors failed classes before. And it didn’t hold them back from becoming great professionals. So why fear failure?
I’m not completely prepared.
No one is 100% prepared for an exam ever. In College there’s always an extra chapter to read, an extra problem set to solve, an extra topic to review. Regardless of how much time we had available, we do what we can and then alea jacta est.
There is no way to cover every single chapter, every single topic, look at the content from every different perspective. There are so many factors outside our reach:
- If teachers decide they will fail everyone, they can.
- If you get an explosive diarrhea that day, you will probably fail or even miss the exam.
- If the teacher didn’t list all chapters properly, you will most likely get some questions wrong.
And so on!
This isn’t self-help, though!
I don’t want this post to be interpreted as a quick clickbait, self-help, personal development, <insertbuzzword here> post. If there’s someone on Earth who hates empty content, it’s me.
Evidently, there are some situations in which anxiety is justifiable. How can a pre-med student not feel anxious when taking the MCAT (Medical School Admission Test in the US)? Or any student taking any standardized exam? Your future may depend on a single number resulting from these tests.
Mindset changes still apply, though. Think about this scenario. You are going to take an acceptance exam – you need more than 85% to succeed.
- You prepared for 12 weeks for this exam.
- You read all the recommended sources.
- Solved hundreds of practice questions.
- Reviewed the whole content at least 10 times over the final 2 weeks preceding the exam.
Under these circumstances, why are you nervous? Easy for you to say, you’re not taking the exam! Well, such a thorough preparation was all that you could sanely do. If you did all this, if you dedicated 12 weeks of your life to an exam, why are you nervous? You did everything you could.
The moment you get inside that examination room, your future is no longer your responsibility. There is nothing else you can do to improve your result, other than sitting down and enjoying the exam.
Enjoying the Exam
You may be asking What the hell do you mean by enjoy the exam? Well, an exam should be seen as an opportunity to show off your knowledge. Just create the illusion that the exam is just another practice test, just another practice scenario like the ones you studied from.
Since failing the exam will not bring the Second Coming, sit down and just do your thing. Be sure to:
- Make sure you got right the time and location of the exam. It happened to me once, almost failing an exam because I confused a.m. with p.m.
- Bring two pens, in case one of them runs out of ink. You probably do this already.
- Check how many questions are there in the exam, but don’t freak out if they are more than you expected.
- Guesstimate how much time you will have for each question and keep your eyes on the clock.
- Do not obsess over one question, if you don’t know the answer skip it (but note it down, so you will remember to come back later).
If you ever have a panic attack or get too nervous too think, just calm down, put your pen down and close your eyes. From the top of your head to the tips of your toes, relax all your muscles to relieve the tension. Take the time to lower your heart rate, breathe deeply 10 times and then continue the exam. This simple and effective routine takes 2 minutes from total examination time, but can save your whole exam from a failing grade.
At the end of the day, never, I repeat, never think that failing = failing. Failing = try again next time. Failing = next time I’ll do much better. Do like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and…