Exams are over! But why do we worry so much?


You either are an inherent exam worrier, or you know several. For them, the revision starts too early to be remotely useful, the tension builds, Christmas is tainted by the countdown to freedom and then they vanish, absorbed by the library for seemingly days on end until…freedom!

The question posed above may make it sound like my exams were easy but they most certainly were not. I may have only had 3 exams this semester but I swear the season felt like an eternity. I wish I didn’t worry so much, realistically the chances of getting a 1st Class degree in Zoology are slim for me, and much more dependent on my dissertation grade than my exams but still, I worry.

But the key question is, why do we worry? I have had a million and one exams, I know the drill at uni and in the end, once the revision is done, the facts are known and practice papers written, I still jeopardise my results by thinking the end is nigh. But, it seems this is reality for many, independent of age, stakes or demographic context. A recent study by Segool et al, 2014 uses a cognitive behavioral model of test anxiety among a sample of 1,248 school-aged children evaluates test anxiety occurring in a high-stakes context using structural equation modeling. The study measured test anxiety, self-efficacy, school climate, perceived test importance, and demographic information to evaluate a proposed test anxiety model that includes cognitive processes, learning experiences, demographic characteristics, social context, and environmental contingencies as predictors. The resulting model suggests a dynamic interplay among variables. So maybe out previous experiences from school or home influence our reactions to stress?

Another interesting aspect to explore is, does the stress and anxiety, especially just before the exam actually improve our performance? Jung et al, 2011 investigated the physiological aspects of anxiety through blood pressure and heart rate recordings in the peri-exam period of 64  20 year-old college students. The BP and HR were measured in the morning and in the evening for 3 days during the prereview (ba), review, and exam periods. The BP and HR increase amplitudes (HRIA) of review and exam periods were from the difference of corresponding values and basic values, and the BPIA/baBP and HRIA/baHR were calculated. All of the students completed the Self-Rating Anxiety score (SAS) questionnaire the first day of the exam period. Scores over 50 points were used as the standard for anxiety. From the prereview to exam periods, the BP and HR increased gradually. The exam SBPIA (4.3 ± 1.3 vs. 0.3 ± 0.5 mmHg, P < 0.05) and DBPIA (4.4 ± 1.5 vs. 1.0 ± 0.5 mmHg, P < 0.05) were significantly higher in the anxiety group than in the no-anxiety group. The SBPIA/DBPIA and HRIA showed a similar profile also(9.7 ± 2.1 vs. 1.9 ± 0.9 bpm, P < 0.05). Strong positive correlations were found between the SAS score and BPIA and HRIA both in the review and exam period. The BP and HR increase in the review and exam period, anxiety is an important factor of BP and HR increase. Arguably such an increase boosts circulatory adrenaline levels and to an extent helps concentration, but from further reading a threshold point can be reached, like a tipping point at which maximal output is surpassed and ability tumbles down the other side of the hill, into full on mind block….which isn’t beneficial.

So, to conclude, anxiety over exams is something nearly all of us encounter, and may indeed be helping us thrive under timed conditions, but must be kept in check. Revise hard, eat well, sleep well, stay hydrated, take breaks and party even harder afterwards…or in my case, update my blog in Costa with a good Mocha.

P.S. Good Luck to my friend Emma tomorrow, those stats won’t know what’s hit them.


One thought on “Exams are over! But why do we worry so much?

  1. What a lovely little post! Will share with the popgeoggers. Quite interesting studies too, I think the follow up article should be ‘why do we procrastinate’, the irony of which being by writing that post you are procrastinating from your dissertation, haha, very droll. Thanks for the good luck message, i’m sure the stats wont know what hit them because i’m going to stick the stress reduction technique at the top to the paper and then follow the instructions! xx


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