Overcoming exam anxiety


By Greg Caceres

The semester’s end is only five weeks away, and with that arrives all the culminated fear and anxiety of the months now past. All those hours, hard-pressed and exhausted, just getting by, seem to tally up to shortcomings and existential crises.

That’s the case for me, at least; maybe I take too big a leap assuming it’s common to students, but I’d hope I’m not alone in that. My GPA is under attack, and I’m not sure the defending force will be sufficient. Exams lead the assault and my hands ache trying to build up some semblance of a wall.

When exams arrive they prove to be a painful reminder that I’m not nearly as smart as I like to think I am. Recently, while taking an online exam with a friend in the same class, I ended with a satisfaction equated to light-hearted skipping, only to find that my score was a solid 15 percent less than I expected, and a solid 10 percent less than my friend earned.

Enter exam envy. It stems from the realm of comparison. It depends on the success or failure of others to determine the success or failure of the self. Forget about what is needed for a degree (whether C’s get it or not); it’s the relative wealth of a neighbor that seems to matter most in this realm. It’s not the most forward-thinking philosophy, but it’s the easiest one to follow in these times of study and stress.

Our responsibility and obligation to ourselves is academic success, but often we distort and redefine what that success looks like. A perfect score on one’s exam is successful, no doubt, but in what realm are we expecting that each and every time? Is that within the realm of reality?

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    The difficulty of trusting, in general, can be immense and burdensome. Trusting that our aspirations will be met with success, even more so.

    The truth is that undergraduates of this generation have seen recession and slow growth for most of their lives; it seems there’s little room to trust that opportunity will present itself when we live in one of the most competitive time periods we may see.

    But what we really need isn’t worry and strife over what we can’t do; rather, relief and satisfaction with what we can do. Who in the whole world — go ahead, try to find him — can keep a single hair on his head from turning gray by worrying about his age? Who can halt cancer by worrying about the many unavoidable carcinogens?

    At the root of all this academic worry and envy is the assumption that everything will go wrong if the idol of GPA is not properly cared for and given the respect it demands, among the many other academic idols vying for our worship and precious time. And at the root is the assumption that they can bring prosperity and good tidings if they are tended just right. Hard work yields a bounty, yes, but at the end of the day the fulfillment and success they bring is completely up in the air. Unseen and unknown, for now.

    Since we have no guarantee that near-perfection will pay off in full, both figuratively and literally with school loans, we need to be able to trust that things will turn out okay once we take hold of our slips of paper and step off the stage. What trust could possibly relieve such an anxiety? None provided by our efforts in achieving perfect scores and perfect transcripts.

    But by trusting the best mantra we have — though it may seem a cliché and motivational — things will be just fine. What we score may not be representative of our full potential, but it is representative of the best we’ll get. To trust and know that what happens in school, though terrifying and anxiety-inducing, will lead to the best outcome is a huge investment of our confidence.

    Still, it’s an investment that will pay off if we let it. A trust that will wipe away anxiety and envy, when we accept the less-than-perfect steps directed towards the best.

    Greg is a freshman in DGS. 

    [email protected]