Campus - 01.06.2017 - 00:00 

How to overcome test anxiety

Whether it’s in the Assessment Year, at the Bachelor’s or Master’s Level – degree courses at the HSG are packed with examinations. Such tests are associated with feeling nervous – which may be helpful to begin with. However, it has been known to turn sour. What can we do about test anxiety? Dana Sindermann reports.
Source: HSG Newsroom

2 June 2017. Feeling nervous is part of every test situation. It is as normal as it is sensible. "We need a certain measure of nervousness and stress to be able to give our maximum," says Florian Schulz, Head of Psychological Counselling at the University of St.Gallen. "These stress reactions put us into a state in which we are more alert. This means we’re able to process more information in this period of time." But there is a point at which productivity can suddenly turn into its opposite. "From a certain degree, there’s simply too much stress, and the system is overloaded. And that’s not merely test anxiety in the sense of 'I’ve got the jitters because of the exam', but it’s real panic." Such panic may be accompanied by palpitations, breathlessness or even a breakdown. In addition, negative thoughts will gain ground. "A large part of this examination is then spent on this inner fight. The candidate spends all their time trying to calm down or not to calm down and be agitated. And this inner turmoil goes hand in hand with certain thoughts, like 'I’ll never pass this exam, I’m too thick', even if this is a highly intelligent and competent person."

Overcoming the blockage

People who had such a panic reaction once often fear that it will return at the next examination. "The fear also grows if we don’t confront it," says Florian Schulz. But how do we overcome it? The best way to behave is not to avoid examination situations but to revisit them. This is also simply about rehearsing a way of dealing with this excitement. “Strategies in this respect may include learning to relax in order to reduce physiological stress, on the one hand, or entering into this situation intellectually, on the other hand. This alone often works very well; it can also be done with therapeutic support."

Florian Schulz also recommends that students should tell a faculty member in the run-up to an examination that they are battling with this problem. "Then the examiner will ask what they could do about it, and the student can say that they’ll take a bit longer at the beginning so they can warm up." The best thing would be not to launch straight into the examination questions but to give students a couple of minutes’ time to reach a safe speaking level.

Contact points at the HSG

Students who are affected by test anxiety can find support at various contact points at the HSG. Psychological Counselling is one such contact point. It may also happen that test anxiety in related to an illness or disability. In such cases, it is worth looking for help at the Special Needs Advice Center. These advice centres will ensure that students will receive the necessary support from the relevant quarters.

During such meetings, the issue will have to be tackled jointly. "We certainly can’t guarantee that a student can complete the Assessment Year successfully. But we can contribute towards students’ performing as well as they can within the limits of what’s possible." A certain degree of nervousness will always remain. And that is just as well. "The point really is to recognise that a certain amount of stress and anxiety is also your friend."

Dana Sindermann is a research assistant at the Institute for Business Ethics.

Photo: Photocase / complize