Test Anxiety: The New Norm?

This article was written by Briony and edited by Emilia.

While it’s easy to understand that being a teenager isn’t always easy in itself, students today face greater hardships than previous generations, particularly when it comes to examinations.

With extracurriculars, special awards and competition to attend prestigious universities, exam results become the benchmark of a child’s success – their grades signifying their value to their parents, teachers and universities. While studying for my IGCSEs pre-COVID, I was taught that everything I studied would be for the exam, in order to achieve well on that one paper. If I had read a question wrong, or was simply having a bad day, my grade could potentially plummet: my two years of hard work disappearing as quick as my hopes and dreams.

With COVID-19 and the introduction of teacher assessed grading, this changed. Instead of one large exam at the end of the learning period, many exam boards opted to place a higher value on coursework, as well as having teachers grading students in smaller, less overwhelming testing environments in order to provide evidence for their predicted grades.

When this change was announced, myself and most of my classmates were overjoyed. Instead of competing with the teacher assessed grades of UK students, we were now able to have an equal chance and our teachers were able to assess us on our actual merits, instead of one performance.

While it is easy to paint most of 2020 and 2021’s respective stress as a product of COVID-19, the fact remains that exams have been a topic of stress for students ever since they were implemented and teenagers in today’s society seem to have some added burdens. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), 1 in 3 teenagers between 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their schooling, while numbers of suicide attempts committed by American teenagers, grades 9 through to 12 increased from 6% in 2009 to 7% in 2017 and suicide attempts that required serious medical attention increased from 1.9% in 2009 to 2.4% in 2017.

While these numbers first appear as small percentages, first consider the size of the US population and imagine the thousands of teenagers that have been affected by such hardships.

How has anxiety become the new normal? Are all teenagers anxious? While the answers to these questions are unclear, the most prevalent form of anxiety in teens is known as Test Anxiety. While almost all students face nerves when going into tests, only approximately 40% of all students (Healthline) deal with some form of test anxiety, to the point where in some cases, a student’s performance could be greatly impacted. While adequate amounts of nerves are known to actually improve exam performance, experiencing test anxiety is defined as both physical symptoms and emotional reactions that seriously impair and cause extreme distress during or leading up to an examination. The American Test Anxiety Association states that students with some form of anxiety consistently score approximately half a letter grade below their peers.

This is not to say that all exams are to some respect evil and our schools are unnecessarily cruel by making us pursue any form of examination but the examinations are instead something to be endured – something that is possible to get through and then once you are done with education, something you are likely never going to have to deal with again. I’ve compiled three ways to be more prepared for these unpleasant feelings during your exams and attempt to score extra marks.

Actually Study

It may seem obvious and boring but being prepared content-wise is the first step to feeling more confident in your exam abilities. This includes note taking, past papers (done under exam conditions alongside a group of friends will mimic the exam experience, albeit with less pressure, which is good for experience) as well as whatever you know works for you – whether it’s YouTube videos or rereading your textbook.

Understand why you are experiencing these feelings

Is it the pressure? Is it being surrounded by any people? Is it the time limit? Whatever the case, it’s important for you to figure out why you’re experiencing this, especially if you are likely to be in similar situations in the future. This could be done through reaching out to a therapist, extensive googling, or by putting yourself in similar situations and isolating the factors which cause you distress.

Reach out to your friends and family

Whatever you are experiencing, it’s very, very likely you are not alone. Talking about your mental health with your loved ones is the best way for them to understand how to support you and how you can support them in return. The likelihood is, many of them are experiencing this too and maybe you can get through this together.

Please note that the British School of Bucharest is not responsible for the content on external pages and, as usual, we advise you to monitor your children’s online activity.

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