“I just blank out!” – Exam Anxiety

It’s the week of the Promos! Time super flies. Hmm…please do not mimic the grammatical syntax of that phrase in your exams. This post applies for everyone I suppose…whether you’re in the thick of promotional exams or counting down to your first A level paper on 6th November!

I probably should have written about exam anxiety earlier but oh well, better late than never! Any of us can have exam anxiety (yes, even the straight A students) and a little anxiety is in and of itself not a bad thing. It’s a signal that this exam is important to us and a little anxiety can help get our adrenaline going and help us stay focused and alert. It becomes a problem when the anxiety starts to become debilitating and then ends up paralyzing us such that we ‘blank out’ which I’m sure is a phenomenon many of us are familiar with. 🙂

When we talk about exam anxiety, it’s important to recognize for ourselves that there are two types of people who gets exam anxiety. One are the students who didn’t prepare well for the exam in which case it’s rather reasonable and rational that they would feel anxious. Another are the ones who did prepare and in fact felt pretty confident but after stepping into the exam hall their heart starts to race, palms sweat, recurring thoughts that ‘I’m gonna fail’  and then the ultimate happens – they ‘blank out. So what can we do to prevent exam anxiety?

Well, in the first scenario in which exam anxiety is attributed to unpreparedness, the simple answer is uhh…prepare? Duh. There’s no magic formula for that I suppose. But what if you didn’t manage to prepare? Or what if you did prepare but you still feel anxious? Some of the following strategies might be helpful:-

  • Get plenty of sleep  before the exam itself. Which means no last minute cramming. Which also means that at some point the night before the exam, you just gotta close your book, tell yourself ‘it is what it is’ and then go to sleep. I tell students that we are vessels of knowledge. If the vessel breaks down, it doesn’t matter how much knowledge we managed to cram in, we wouldn’t be able to deliver anyway.
  • Before entering the exam hall, avoid cramming last minute and definitely avoid classmates or other students who are anxious and who express negativity. Anxiety and negativity can be infectious! If the wait is killing you, pick a quiet corner (or spot) and distract yourself by reading a magazine or listen to music.
  • Remember that your exam grades is not a reflection of your self-worth. A grade is just a grade. It’s true that it plays a role in whether you would get to promote or not, or whether you would get into the university of your choice. But it doesn’t define who you are and all of your future successes. So let the grade remain as just that – a grade.
  • Expect that you will have some anxiety and that it’s normal. Don’t be anxious that you’re anxious!
  • If you feel anxiety creeping up, give yourself positive statements such as ‘I’m just going to try my best’ and breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly a few times. Check out this other post on techniques for calming and focusing for something practical you can use.
  • If you do blank out and can’t for the life of you remember anything and find yourself not being able to do any of the questions, don’t focus on the ‘blanking out’. Think about the next small step. Leave the ‘big’ questions and focus on the small ones. Or if possible, have a drink or go to the bathroom.
  • Remember to counter your negative thoughts such as ‘I’m not going to do well’ with rational thoughts such as ‘I don’t have to be perfect’ etc. Again, check out this post on ‘thought stopping’.

If exam anxiety is really plaguing you and you can’t figure it out, talk to your teacher or to me about it. You don’t have to go through it alone. Below are some useful articles that you can read to find out more about exam anxiety and how to beat it. All the best!!

Brochure on Test Anxiety from University of Illinois Counseling Center

Article on ‘overcoming test anxiety’ from the ‘Study Guides and Strategies’ website


One Comment Add yours

  1. Ms Joan says:

    Jessica K, thanks for your comment. The posts are meant to be topical hence the length. But your comment is duly noted. 🙂

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