Exam Anxiety- Among School children
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
- Roy T. Bennett, author
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling a person feels when they expect something stressful to happen. When an individual is stressed, his body releases the hormone adrenaline, which prepares him for danger. Adrenaline causes physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart and rapid breathing. These symptoms can be mild or intense. Anxiety in children manifests itself in different ways depending on the age of the child. It can also be referred to as anticipatory anxiety, situational anxiety, or evaluation anxiety. Some anxiety is normal and often helps to stay mentally and physically alert. Lower performance does not occur because of intellectual problems or poor academic preparation, but because testing situations create a sense of threat for those experiencing test anxiety; it could be a result from a sense of threat then disrupts the function of attention and memory.
Signs and symptoms:
- In humans, anxiety symptoms are distributed along a continuum, and different levels of anxiety symptoms predict outcomes.
- Reactions consist of increased heart rate, stress hormone secretion, restlessness, alertness, and fear of a potentially dangerous environment.
- When an individual has feelings of low competence about their abilities, they are likely to expect negative outcomes such as failure under uncertain conditions. Assessment situations, including tests and exams, are thus perceived as more threatening by students with low competence.
- Symptoms of test anxiety can range from moderate to severe. “Students who show mild symptoms are still able to perform relatively well on exams. Other students with severe anxiety often experience panic attacks.”
- Physical symptoms include: headache, upset stomach, feelings of fear and dread, shortness of breath, sweating, pacing or shaking, crying, racing thoughts and bowel movements.
Exam anxiety consists of:
- Physiological over-arousal – often called emotionality. Somatic symptoms include headache, stomach ache, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, rapid heartbeat, and dry mouth. Test anxiety can also lead to panic attacks, in which a student may experience sudden intense fear, difficulty breathing, and extreme discomfort.
- Fear and dread – maladaptive cognition. This includes catastrophic expectations of gloom and doom, fear of failure, random thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, self-judgment, negative self-talk, frustration, and unfavorable comparisons to others.
- Cognitive/behavioral – poor concentration, “loss of focus” or “freezing”, confusion and poor organization. Inability to concentrate leads to impaired performance in tests. Drilling during the test or avoiding the test altogether. Students often report that they “wiped out” even though they studied well enough for the test.
- Emotional – low self-esteem, depression, anger and feelings of hopelessness.
Strategies to prevent or manage anxiety in the classroom:
Educate students about anxiety — Providing emotional support.
- Encourage the student to use self-soothing or anxiety-reducing techniques taught by the counselor or therapist.
- Allow the student to have a self-soothing object or family pictures close at hand.
Build in “call home” breaks (for students with separation anxiety).
- Have the student seek help from a designated staff member with mental health expertise when experiencing anxiety.
Provide a classroom with open communication:
- Arrange for classroom seating where the student is most comfortable (near the door, at the front of the room, near a teacher or friend).
- Have the student sit in the back of the room or near the exit during assembly.
- Assign the student a designated buddy for lunch, recess, and/or hallways.
- Allow preferential grouping for field trips so that the student is with a teacher or friends.
- Give the student a “break” to walk down the hall, get a drink, or leave the classroom when needed.
- Make a plan to make up time after an absence or illness (for example, excuse missed homework or have a known time frame for preparing work).
- Inform in advance of planned teacher substitutions or other changes in routine.
- Give the student notice and more time before upcoming transitions, such as before recess and lunch, and practice transitions in a private or low-stress environment.
Teach and discuss positive coping skills with students:
- Clearly state and/or write down expectations and consequences in the classroom.
- Break tasks into smaller parts.
- Check in frequently for understanding and “emotional temperature.”
- Before you call the student, give the student a signal and give them a signal to opt out of receiving calls.
- Offer written instructions in addition to spoken instructions.
- Free the student from reading aloud or demonstrating work in front of the class.
- Have the student present the projects to the teacher, not to the whole class.
- Teach students to focus their attention on a specific subject (the sound of the heater, how their body feels, etc. as it could be exactly like mindfulness) and keep them focused on study habits and focus on daily practice tests.
- Mufina, MHP, M.S.C.P., D.M.H.,
Psychologist, Mental Health Counsellor,
Chennai, TN, India.
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