What Are the Causes of Exam Stress?


Students preparing for exams often feel under pressure. The pressure may result in feelings of anxiety or nervousness, and this exam stress can interfere with the individual's daily life. While a certain amount of stress may be beneficial, too much exam stress can cause individuals to perform poorly on tests that mean so much to them. Learning the causes of exam stress can help students to understand their emotions and to regulate their anxiety level.

External Pressure

  • Many students feel pressured because of expectations of family members or teachers. They want to do their best work so that they do not let anyone down with their performance. This pressure to do well can heighten exam stress. Also, if a student is working toward a scholarship or particular academic goal, performing well on a test will be of paramount importance. Students may perceive themselves to be in competition with others, and the competition may heighten their anxiety levels.

Internal Pressure

  • The pressure to perform well and succeed doesn't just have to come from a student's family; instead, the student may apply the pressure to himself. If the student wants to be the very best, a poor performance on a test may be a great fear. If the student spends too much time thinking about how difficult the exam is and worrying about the outcome of the test, this negative approach will increase exam stress.

Lack of Preparation

  • When students do not feel that they have properly covered the material, feelings of nervousness and anxiety will sweep over them as they walk into the exam room. Students should study well in advance of the test and not wait until the last moment to prepare for an exam. Rushed, last-minute studying will increase anxiety. Students who do not sleep properly before an exam may also experience higher stress levels.


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