Anxious Before Exams? Some Anxiety is Normal!

Read time: 3 min

Taking a final exam or pressing submit on your last paper of the term can be a nerve-wracking experience. Colloquially, the term “test anxiety” has become commonplace when students discuss these feelings that occur around final exams. But, feeling anxious before a big exam, an anxiety disorder really are two different things.


Some Anxiety Is Normal!


Feeling anxious before an exam might not feel comfortable, but it is normal. Depending on the level for which you have prepared by studying and participating in your course throughout the semester, you might feel more prepared to perform well on your tests, and therefore less anxious. Still, when we have ANYTHING that has some sort of stake attached to it, like scoring high enough to pass a class, get accepted into a new program, or continue with your education, there will be some level of nervousness attached to it. And that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Eustress, sometimes called “Positive Stress” can actually motivate you to focus and perform better. When you have taken the time to prepare for your exams, the nerves you feel before your pencil hits the paper might actually be Eustress helping you get ready to focus. 


When Does It Cross The Line?


Some anxiety in our life is a normal response to our circumstances and can feel like fear, uneasiness, or a general sense of worry. Stressors in life like our finances, job outlook, and school performance are all normal sources of anxiety. For most people, their anxiety is not persistent and typically resolves with the situation, like when your anxiety relieves itself after final grades are posted, or you are able to mitigate it yourself using coping skills like mindful breathing techniques. However, for some, they may experience overwhelming anxiety that interferes with their ability to function in day-to-day life. For college students, this interference can often include test performance; when normal feelings of anxiousness before an exam end up interfering with your ability to perform well based on your knowledge and studying, then it might be time to consider speaking with a professional about ways to address your anxieties.


Who Can I Talk To About Test Anxiety?

  • The Counseling Center on-campus is a great place to start when seeking support and skills to help relieve some of your anxieties before your exams. The Counseling Center has Let’s Talk, a virtual drop-in hour every Monday-Friday from 1-2PM that requires no appointment, and allows you to connect with a counselor immediately to voice your worries. This brief meeting can help you determine other resources for support, and introduce you to your options for on-going mental health support on campus or in the surrounding community. 
  • The O’Neill Center for Academic Development provides academic support to all students, including collaborative learning solutions to accommodate your diverse learning styles, and free online tutoring! Their caring and compassionate staff are experienced in working with students who have learning disabilities, or other conditions in order to help plan accommodations and other academic strategies to set you ups for success
  • Don’t forget that ultimately your professors are here to help you succeed as well. While many of us may have only had digital classroom interaction this term, you can still reach out to your professors for virtual office hours to talk through areas of course content that might be sources of stress for you. It might seem intimidating at first, but your professors are your advocates too and they can’t provide help and guidance unless they know what areas are troubling you. Learning how and when to ask for help is a lifelong skill that will help you throughout your academic career and beyond!