Why do we suffer stress during exams?
The whole world has passed: fail relatively simple exam questions , you do not know very well why.
Knowledge that we thought we had learned well rebel against us at the most inopportune moment, questions appear that have been transformed since the last time we wrote down the answer and, in general, we are left with the feeling that at the moment of delivering the sheet with the answers are less intelligent than a few hours before. All this seems a product of magic, a kind of invisible force that tries to lead us to failure. That invisible force is called stress.
Several studies indicate that high levels of stress at times of exercising cognitively demanding tasks make us fail more than the account, counteracting the positive effect that practice and previous study have on our performance. This means that the appearance of "spikes" of stress in the decisive moments harms us in the most decisive moments, something worrying if we take into account that it is very frequent to suffer nerves and anxiety when running tests.
What role does stress play?
Stress is a cascade reaction of our hormones and our nervous system that it may be useful in some contexts . Its appearance puts us on alert and strengthens muscle tension, accelerates the pulse and causes a hormonal chain reaction from the release of cortisol and adrenaline.
All this is very useful at times when we need to give a quick physical response, such as flight or struggle, capacities that have probably been very important in our lineage for hundreds of thousands of years. However, stress is not so useful when the problems that must be resolved are more related to intelligence, intellectual performance. In fact, it can be counterproductive if it occurs at too high levels.
How does stress appear on exams?
It is believed that the occurrence of stress during examinations and other tests act as processes.
On the one hand, as the time of the test approaches, behavioral patterns that enhance the onset of stress, such as procrastination, long studies at the last moment or even repetitive patterns such as biting the nails, may begin. stretch strands of hair, etc.
On the other hand, at the time of the test Stress can be exacerbated by a whiting that bites its tail : thinking about failure produces more discomfort and alertness, which causes the attention to focus on the anticipation of a negative result and not on the specific task that must be performed.
To this we must add another aspect: the impact of taking one or another result in an exam . In many universities it is frequent to do fewer and fewer exams, making it very important to get good marks in them. It could be thought that the presence of a greater incentive (having a final grade assured with a single exam) or a more severe punishment (suspending an exam is a serious blow and will be reflected in the overall grades) can serve to motivate more students and therefore improve its performance, but the opposite effect could be achieved.
Some research in this regard
There are multiple experiments in which it has been seen how a very high reward can induce to a stress so high that the performance of volunteers plummets . In one in particular, a series of volunteers were asked to solve a circuit of different tasks related to marksmanship and intelligence. Different volunteers had the possibility of winning a greater or lesser reward. The results showed how those people who opted for a bigger prize obtained poorer results.
It is likely that these participants were distracted both by the possibility of not winning the reward and by the idea of being feeding their own stress. As it happens to us during the most important tests, the need to pay attention to the task as well as to our own state and to the possible result that will have to do it right or wrong produces a cognitive overload from which it is difficult to leave.
In general, it seems that this does not happen only with high rewards, but also under the threat of loss or punishment. The exams show these two faces of the incentive system, having positive and negative consequences, and also have the peculiarity of having nothing to do with situations in which explosive force or flight becomes the only viable solution. The key to all this is find a way to reach the optimal level of stress : enough to be attentive to what is asked of us without the hormone chain reaction going away.
Tips for controlling stress and nerves during exams
You can learn to manage nerves by reading this article:
5 tricks to avoid nerves before an exam
Good luck in your exams and we wish you, after reading these articles, you can learn to manage those nerves and anxiety that did not allow you to perform to the fullest. Henceforth, For the honorary registration!
- Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Lowenstein, G. and Mazar, N. (2009). Large stakes and big mistakes. The Review of Economic Studies, 76 (2), pp. 451-469.