Female students laying her head down on a table of books

Some students might enter the exam hall all prepared, rested and motivated for the paper. On the other hand, some are nervous and somewhat anxious taking their preparations for the exam. Quite a common thing to witness, especially when it comes to college and university degree programmes. This is where we talk about exam anxiety.

Besides the psychological consequences, exam anxiety also comes with a number of physical responses including headache, nausea, racing heartbeat, emotional responses, such as, demotivating, negative thoughts, etc. Besides that, the student might also feel light headedness, faintness, tension, throwing up, and other emotions displaying anxiety or extreme nervousness.

Given the caliber of college or university level education and requirements, students may or may not experience one or more of the above symptoms during the exams. Although we have the influences of exam anxiety in discussion, but it’s yet to be confirmed whether exam anxiety is primarily responsible for the students’ poor performance in the course.

However, it would be completely inappropriate to say that anxiety is solely responsible for poor performance in the exams. But other factors including lack of sufficient preparation causes the students to perform poorly in the exams.

What Causes Exam Anxiety?

One of the most burning questions in the classroom: What causes some students to buckle under the pressure of exams while other group of students who remain all calm and composed when reading the question paper? There are several potential explanations depicting and answering the question. Some students might experience exam anxiety due to past unpleasant events. For example, failing in one exam leading to embarrassment in the college and family can lead the situation to take further hold in the next exam.

However, the definition of failure may be different for every student in the class. Generally, failing an exam indicates acquiring scores below the minimum passing marks required. In the case of highly ambitious or bright students, scoring anything less than a C or even B is equivalent to failure for them, simply, they failed to score the grade they desired. This is why exceptional performers are prone to higher levels of exam anxiety as they put immense pressure on themselves to avoid coming any second to best.

Furthermore, the level of exam pressure students feel depends on the worth they place for each exam. If an exam carries crucial importance for you both in terms of personal and professional aspects, then it’s obvious, it will become a “must win” and highly significance situation for you. On the other hand, if you feel the course is of little or no value for your professional endeavors, then you wouldn’t be feeling any considerable exam anxiety unlike others in the class. This explains why you may experience a level of exam anxiety in one class but little or none at all in another course.

Another major indicator for exam anxiety is the self-efficacy factor, the belief in your tendency to accomplish a goal. Students that register higher self-efficacy typically results in experiencing less exam anxiety, unless there are other factors to elevate the stress. For example, if you are good in mathematics, then you won’t be having a hard time in studying physics, chemistry, and other engineering related fields.

At other times, the type of exam can also lead to anxiety. You will be well-prepared with all the subject material learned of the course, but the structure and format of the exam may not be in a way you preferred, hence, leading you to anxiety. For example, consider yourself a student favouring more of a trial-and-error approach when it comes to multiple choice questions (MCQs). But when come across descriptive type questions such as those requiring detailed explanatory answers, you can feel anxiety up to a certain extent.

In addition to all the above, the pressure of completing a given number of questions within the allotted time gives rise to exam anxiety. The case is especially applicable with college or university degree programmes where students are tested with conceptual and thought-provoking questions as compared to rather traditional and straightforward high school education.


Lara Hawkins is a certified educational psychologist and has attended several institutions worldwide for the betterment and wellbeing of mental health in students. Besides her experience and core job, Lara is also an accomplished assignment writer with a large student base under her unparalleled expertise catering a plethora of academic disciplines.

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