Exam anxiety and academic achievement are known as emotional states accompanied by stress, fear, and anxiety that affect individuals at various stages of their lives, particularly in connection with assessment processes, testing, and exams. This anxiety manifests in numerous signs that reflect the examinee’s nervousness.
The danger of exam anxiety in academic achievement lies in its advanced stages; while the initial impact of stress and anxiety can serve as a motivator to exert more effort to pass exams and succeed, its negative effects start to emerge as anxiety amplifies to unnatural levels, preventing students from achieving tranquility and calmness before, during, or after an exam.
Specialists and psychologists have discussed a strong relationship between the learning process and the phenomenon of anxiety. Research and studies conducted on students have shown that a significant portion of them performed below their actual capabilities during assessments due to psychological pressure and stress experienced during testing. This condition, known as exam anxiety, manifests through visible signs of stress and disturbance.
Thus, exam anxiety and academic achievement can be defined as a state of nervousness about a test that a student is about to take or is taking. It’s a nervous feeling some students experience at the start of or before exams. While a bit of tension and anxiety before tests is normal, the severe symptoms of anxiety triggered by the presence of an exam—such as lack of concentration, poor performance, along with severe anxiety symptoms like stomach pain, headache, sweating, trembling, and rapid heartbeats—are not normal. In some cases, acute exam anxiety can cause a student to faint or lose consciousness.
Causes of Exam Anxiety and Academic Achievement
The causes of exam anxiety and academic achievement are multifaceted, involving a set of cognitive stimulants that generate a negative reaction towards anticipated adverse events, affecting both mind and body. This leads to the release of adrenaline, which causes physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, fast breathing, and sweating due to focusing on potential negative outcomes related to an exam or past negative experiences.
In the context of exam anxiety and academic performance, students often harbor negative or pessimistic thoughts such as “What if I can’t remember what I’ve studied for the exam?”, “Is it possible that I might fail the test despite all my hard work?”, “What if the questions don’t come out as I expect and the exam is full of inferences and prior information?”, “If I don’t score perfectly, I’ll lose my top rank in class”, or “My parents will be very upset if I fail to succeed in the exam”.
Such thoughts and others that cross a student’s mind because of the exam stimulate intense feelings of anxiety. In reality, these are at the core of exam anxiety and academic achievement issues. The more an individual focuses on these potential negative events, the more their anxiety regarding exams and academic performance multiplies. Consequently, this distraction hampers their focus while reading the questions and answering them, leading to poor performance in the exam.
Symptoms of Exam Anxiety and Academic Achievement
Negative and obsessive thoughts dominate the student’s mind during an exam or preparation period, causing insomnia, sleep problems, and stress.
Performance-related disturbances in mental processes such as thinking, remembering, and concentrating are common.
Physiologically, symptoms of exam anxiety and academic achievement appear as stomach pains, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, and dryness of lips and throat. Other symptoms include difficulty in recalling information during exams, attention deficit, and decreased concentration ability in different educational situations.
Treatment for Exam Anxiety and Academic Achievement
Getting Adequate Sleep
Adequate sleep is crucial for treating exam anxiety and academic achievement. Ensuring enough sleep before an exam is essential as anxiety can lead to sacrificing sleep for study, which increases anxiety, tires the nervous system, and decreases concentration and memory. It is important to ensure adequate sleep and a healthy breakfast rich in proteins and vitamins before heading to the exam.
Communicating with the Examinee
Communication with the examinee and listening to their fears and thoughts can provide comforting and reassuring responses to their negative ideas.
This calm and warm dialogue can alleviate their concerns and clarify that their fears about the exam are natural and commonly experienced by many when facing significant milestones in their lives. Additionally, it’s possible to offer guidance to reduce their tension, such as performing deep breathing exercises.
Boosting the Student’s Confidence
Boosting a student’s self-confidence and clarifying the true purpose of an exam helps in treating exam anxiety and improving academic achievement. It’s essential to make students understand that the goal of an exam is learning itself—retaining and understanding information, not merely achieving perfect scores. This approach can reduce the burden and psychological pressure, in addition to highlighting an important point: their grade in an exam does not determine their level of intelligence or serve as a measure of comparison between them and their peers.
Studying with the Student
Sitting with the student during study sessions can effectively treat exam anxiety and academic achievement.
Reducing Psychological Burden
Minimizing the significance of exams is one approach to treating exam anxiety and improving academic performance. Unfortunately, parents often contribute to this anxiety by placing high expectations on students and making them feel as though their performance and achievements in exams are the cause of their parents’ happiness or unhappiness. This can significantly increase the psychological burden on the student, as it places the responsibility for their parents’ emotions on them, thereby increasing their anxiety about exams.
Exam anxiety and academic achievement in adults are considered normal when within natural degrees that motivate diligence and hard work. However, its danger lies in exceeding these normal levels and turning into a psychologically and physically harmful nervous condition. In such cases, it is imperative to address it immediately to treat it and eliminate its negative effects.
Author: Mr. Saleem Al-Hamid, Arabic Language Teacher at Masarat Initiative