Dealing with Anxiety Before Exams

The majority of students attempt to acquire all the knowledge that they can learn the same day of the exam, causing an increase of anxiety levels.

By Kenneth Rivera

Yesenia Fuentes, a 22-year-old biology student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM), starts her day at 5 a.m. to get ready and go to college. Usually she has enough time to get ready and arrive on time but on this day she is more hurried than usual. Traffic in turn accentuates the despair to come to college.

After spending a week sick she accumulated a lot of homework and exams for the same day. She must miss a class to take an Aerobiology replacement exam dominated not very well, has an exam of Clinical Microbiology, a quiz of Medical Ethics and a French quiz.

The majority of university students face situations like this when they make a greater effort to meet the demands of the university. Often students reach the limits of their capacity to respond positively to the work assigned to them and at that point the pressure of studies begins to affect them directly.

“Being anxious does not disable me from doing my daily tasks but it prevents me from enjoying the beautiful things in life,” said Fuentes.

Although for some people anxiety is not a stumbling block for their daily activities, reality becomes very different for others.

According to the UPRM student counselor Hernán Mendez Gómez, anxiety before exams consists of a series of negative emotional reactions some students feel before the exams. Contributing factors may include fear of not having enough time to learn the material or the fact that the performance of the students in the test determines much of their academic future.

“Many people who were successful in high school have had their first failures in college and have given them a negative meaning, which creates in them a mental block before a test,” said Méndez.

The frustratiom of not having enough dedication or time to study is evident in the faces of some students.

People who have very driving parents and are also anxious; people who have had painful experiences with the school environment given sometime in their lives; people who develop perfectionists trends; battered individuals and dysfunctional families are more inclined to have anxiety before exams.

According to the Cabinet Psycho Pedagogical Guidance of Counseling Services (GPP for its Spanish acronym) of the University of Granada-Spain, the effects of anxiety are physiological, psychological and emotional.

At the physiological level reactions can include tachycardia, muscle tightness, nausea, dry mouth, or sweating. Psychologically, you may experience a failure to act, make decisions, express yourself, or handle day-to-day situations. Emotional reactions can lead to feel apprehensive, anxious, angry or abandoned.

Anxiety can be “pre-emptive” if the feeling of discomfort occurs when studying or to thinking what will happen in the exam or “situational” if it happens during the exam. This affects the performance of the student in the exam because the students may experience a mental block making it impossible to remember responses even though they had learned them.

The Foundation for Mental Health link at shows that the reason why many students fail is not because of lack or capacity of learning problems, but because of extreme levels of anxiety that rise with an exam.

The link of the Foundation for Mental Health provides some tips to reduce anxiety before an exam.

  • Study well in advance and try not to assimilate the majority of the material the last days before the exam.
  • Make a list to organize the materials to inquiries for the exam and study the material thoroughly.
  • Choose a location comfortable to take the exam, with good lighting and few distractions.
  • Try to be relaxed and not try to fill your mind with knowledge moments before starting the exam.
  • Avoid talking with colleagues that have not been prepared well and are expressing themselves in a negative way.
  • Sleep the night before to be rested for the exam.
  • Do not take exams on an empty stomach; eat something light to reduce anxiety.

This list is not a definitive treatment to deal with anxiety before exams; it is a tool to lessen anxiety levels. Due to situations of daily life and problems that face students, reactions vary from student to student, so it is adviseable to seek professional help if necessary.

Anxiety before exams is a psychological disorder that may lead students to depression and frustration, if not treated. It is necessary to students that are suffering from this disorder to go to a University psychologist or a private psychologist of their preference.












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