Fear of exams

Fear of exams

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Exam fear

The fear of the next exam - many people know this feeling only too well. Long before the actual exam, fear can impair the preparation for the exam through negative chains of ideas and images or even lead to "yawning emptiness" in the head at the crucial moment. But even if heart palpitations, a dry mouth and trembling hands as a sign of “stage fright” are familiar to so many people, the fear of more severe exams should not be taken lightly. Those affected by massive fear of exams are threatened with a professional life far below their real possibilities if they retreat to areas with poor performance and exams.


Exam anxiety, stage fright, specific phobia, specific fear, social phobia, social fear.

Between specific phobia and social fear

A healthy level of excitement, which we also call stage fright, can activate us and help us improve our performance. Only when this feeling takes on irrational, inappropriate form do we speak of fear or phobia. The fear of exams very often occurs as a single, isolated fear. Examples of other common monophobias are the disproportionate fear of spiders or dogs. If this fear leads to the avoidance of examination situations and delusional symptoms and obsessive thoughts can also be excluded, the fear of tests according to the international classification of diseases is usually classified in the category of specific phobias. On closer inspection, however, there are always symptoms of social phobia, which can primarily be described with the fear of a negative assessment by other people. For example, the fear of authority figures or speaking to unknown people before and during an exam situation can be quite relevant and lead to comparable physical and psychological symptoms. However, because in “real” social phobics the fear of evaluation is not limited to performance situations, examination anxiety is often also considered a special form of (specific) fear (with strong social aspects).

Fear of exams: symptoms and consequences

The fear of exams goes hand in hand with both physical and mental symptoms. While in some cases without serious consequences, in others it can have significant social consequences. It is primarily vegetative symptoms that make life difficult for the examinee. This includes trembling hands, sweating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea as well as rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation or inner restlessness. The social environment suffers from the noticeable imbalance and mood swings of those affected, which can increasingly lead to feelings of displeasure and loss of motivation in relation to the goal to be achieved. Unfortunately, the anxious people often experience poor results due to lack of concentration and blackouts, which in no way correspond to their actual abilities. Avoiding further exam situations finally allows some exam anxious professions to take hold of below their skill level and to forego an appropriate career. However, studies have also shown that many people who are afraid of exams are particularly performance-oriented and face the challenge again and again despite the fear of exams.

The fear of exams can relate to at least four different areas, namely the exam preparation, the actual exam situation, the consequences of an unsuccessful exam and the consequences of a successful exam.

Disrupt destructive self-talk

In the exam preparation phase, negative thoughts can become a real obstacle to learning. Automated soliloquy, in which one permanently prays that it can't be done anyway, hinders concentration on the learning material and nips the desire to learn in the bud. This form of destructive beliefs ("I'm too stupid!", "It will be embarrassing.") Can be the result of bad previous experience, but are more often acquired in a home where at least one parent has already demonstrated the perfectionist and test-anxious model . A parenting style in which performance was unilaterally rewarded with recognition does the rest. Healthy self-esteem beyond performance situations can only develop with difficulty under these conditions.

Negative expectations intensify anxiety symptoms

An examination often harbors unpredictable and therefore uncontrollable factors that - with negative expectations - circle in the head in advance and trigger fears: "Who will be the examiner?", "Will the examiners be generous or pedantic in their assessment behavior? "," What exactly are the questions asked? "," Probably questions will be asked about areas that I know least. ", Etc.

In the examination situation itself, the physical symptoms of fear often dominate, which can increase to a panic attack. Here, too, it is your own negative assessment that makes the physical reactions, which are initially appropriate to the situation, a threat. Thus, an accelerated heartbeat caused by the stress reaction becomes an impending heart attack and shaky legs become a safe harbinger of a fainting spell. This focus on symptoms naturally prevents attention to the exam questions and the mobilization of what has been learned. Concentration problems and blackouts are the consequences.

Fear of bad and good consequences

The fear of the bad consequences of an exam can relate to concrete effects, for example if a student does not receive further financial support (Bafög) afterwards or if the exam may not be repeated. In many cases, however, the "loss of face" is in the foreground, the "failure" in your own eyes and in the eyes of other people. Fear of embarrassment and shame are constantly circulating in the head, which is then only available to a limited extent for learning. All of these factors increase pressure during the learning phase and can seriously impair performance.

It is not uncommon for test subjects to be “slowed down” by the fear of performing too well. As a rule, those affected are not aware of these relationships, but they seem to be uncomfortable with being able to perform better than other, possibly friendly, colleagues. They shy away from direct competition because they are afraid of jeopardizing social relationships due to better performance, even if they are fundamentally of the ambitious, perfectionist type. The fear of failure that arises in connection with the upcoming exam actually hides the fear of loss among these people.

Measures against fear of exams

First of all, exam anxiety sufferers should review their learning organization. Structured time planning and appropriate portioning of the learning material can avoid unnecessary time pressure and acute excessive demands ("at the last minute"). Self-help books and professional learning advice are available to teach helpful organizational and learning strategies. In addition, psychologists, educators and naturopaths offer various forms of counseling and treatment against the fear of exams.

Psychological counseling & therapy

If negative thought patterns hinder the preparation for the exam, you can train to interrupt them at the first signal, e.g. by distracting actions are carried out (washing dishes, jogging, brewing tea). In addition, underlying destructive beliefs can be identified and changed. With suitable cognitive therapy methods, causes and backgrounds can be worked out in conversations and alternative formulations for positive self-reinforcement can be found ("You can do it!").

In the case of fear of exams, therapy with self-organizing hypnosis can be particularly valuable. In hypnosis, past successes are remembered not only visually but also emotionally, which generally strengthens self-esteem and increases confidence in the upcoming exam. Images of individually developed inner oases of calm can alleviate stress symptoms. Supposedly causal situations and contexts, influences and beliefs can be identified and changed with therapeutic methods in hypnosis. Finally, a (desired) film can be produced in the inner cinema, which anticipates the successful course of the examination and in which the good feelings and reactions of other people can be enjoyed on a trial basis after the examination. In this way, the factors that are experienced as uncontrollable and therefore trigger anxiety (examiner, topics, course) as well as the expectations regarding the test results are favorably influenced.

Alternative medicine and natural medicine

Experience has shown that the positive influence of nutrition on brain performance and emotions has long been known, and it is gradually gaining general recognition through modern brain research, which (not only) represents a beneficial contrast to the drug brain drug strategies of the pharmaceutical companies. An optimal brain nutrition for learning above all ensures a balanced blood sugar level and sufficient unsaturated fatty acids.

Before the stress-stricken test subjects attempt self-help with alcohol or strong sedative tablets, which can impair performance in the long term, it is preferable to take timed anxiety-relieving, sedating or mood-enhancing herbal drugs or homeopathic medicines from naturopathy. In conversations and with specific diagnostic and test procedures, naturopaths or naturopaths determine one or more agents that can alleviate the symptoms, taking into account the individual constitution.

Energetic procedures such as tapping acupressure, body and ear acupuncture have a balancing effect on the entire organism and regulate the autonomic nervous system. Ear candles, breathing exercises, healing currents, self-hypnosis, meditation or yoga are also suitable for home use to relax the mind, body and spirit. (jvs)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Jeanette Viñals Stein, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Bielefeld University: (accessed: 02.08.2019), guidelines for dealing with exam anxiety
  • Werner Metzig; Martin Schuster: Exam anxiety and stage fright: preparing and mastering assessment situations, Springer, 2017
  • Helga Knigge-Illner: Overcoming examination anxiety: How to master challenges confidently, Campus Verlag, 2010
  • Reinhard Pekrun; Thomas Götz: "Emotion regulation: dealing with examination anxiety", in: Handbuch Lernstrategien, Hogrefe, 2006, catalog of the German National Library
  • Hans-Christian Kossak: Learning made easy: Well prepared and without exam fear to success,
  • Hans Christian Kossak: Learning made easy: Well prepared and without exam fear for success, Carl-Auer Verlag GmbH, 2016

Video: How to conquer the fear of failure in exams? (July 2022).


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