Under pressure: Horror of tests: What really helps with test anxiety

Sweat runs down your forehead, your throat becomes completely dry and it's already the 700th trip to the toilet, just before the exam.

Under pressure: Horror of tests: What really helps with test anxiety

Sweat runs down your forehead, your throat becomes completely dry and it's already the 700th trip to the toilet, just before the exam. Every fiber of your body resists getting on the bus heading to the university. With every kilometer you get closer to the piece of paper, printed with questions that seem to accuse you of ignorance. Almost everyone in Germany should be able to empathize with such a situation.

According to a survey by the International University of Erfurt (IU), nine out of ten Germans have suffered from exam anxiety - almost two thirds of them during school and/or university. 1,600 people in Germany between the ages of 16 and 65 were interviewed for the survey. But hardly any of those surveyed seek help for exam anxiety. Psychological consultant Sabrina Fleisch knows that exam anxiety is also associated with shame. In the interview, she reveals what helps when fear takes over shortly before a class test.

In my dreams, my friend often sits in the Abitur exam and suddenly doesn't know the answer. It's been years since he graduated from school and he passed it. Why do trials hang with us for so long? Dreams can indicate fears and hidden needs. We are assessed in exams. If you dream about them often, you may be afraid of being negatively evaluated by those around you. The fear of failing, of being laughed at, mocked or criticized. But a dramatic exam situation that your friend actually experienced can also be behind such dreams - a painful memory that is burned into the brain.

Everyone is certainly nervous before a class test. When is it exam anxiety? There is no clear limit. But a strong sign of test anxiety is when people, for example, can't even take the test. They avoid any exam situation out of fear. Common symptoms include abdominal pain and problems with the intestines. If someone has a blackout during class work, this is a clear indication of exam anxiety - if you forget everything you have learned, you will be severely overwhelmed. But we should also be aware that this fear of failure is human and, to a certain extent, important for a functioning society. Through them we try to avoid mistakes and penalties. Exam anxiety is not just about pure fear, it is very shameful.

Why are some people able to recall the knowledge they have learned well in exams, while for others it seems to have been erased? How we feel during an exam is closely related to how we evaluate the situation. Anyone who is afraid will always imagine the worst possible scenario. A film plays in front of your mind's eye. How I evaluate myself and my abilities also affects the state of mind I am in during an exam.

Anyone who has exam anxiety is afraid of a horror scenario. What exactly is going on in our heads?"If I don't do this, then I'll be unhappy. I won't get a great job and I won't be successful," that can be a thought of people with exam anxiety. They tend to be perfectionistic, have trouble making mistakes or see them as a total failure. This creates a lot of pressure. This is often accompanied by very negative thoughts: "The exam will be much too difficult anyway" or "The examiner doesn't like me at all. That will ruin my future." This horror film is playing in your head.

And how can I stop it? If such a horror film is playing during the exam situation or shortly before, it is helpful to distract yourself. To break through the negative thoughts, it can help to briefly step away from the situation. And ask yourself how it could end beautifully. Because: What fear teaches us is very far from reality. It is also important to shift your mental focus away from the big goal – passing the test. The test should be broken down into small steps. The first small goal can be to even take the exam.

But a lot depends on some tests. Anyone who ends up taking module exams during their studies must pass them or be thrown out of the course. In a situation like this, it's hard not to think about the outcome. What can help here? Even if such an exam is the last chance for the course, I would try to emphasize the importance of it. Ultimately, if the test doesn't work, there will be another way. At this point it simply helps to have faith in yourself and life. This might be a little easier for people who are more spiritual or believe in fate. And here too it is important to make the exam smaller: an oral exam is just a conversation and the written test is just a piece of paper with letters printed on it.

Whether it's school, training or a job interview - in life we ​​can't always avoid exams. But when the fear is great, those affected try exactly that... As I said, behind the fear of exams is the fear of evaluation. In order to get away from the horror ideas and either/or thinking, those affected should put themselves in uncomfortable situations and see what happens: walk out the door with unkempt hair or simply stand in the way - for the first few minutes It feels bad, but then you realize that other people don't pay as much attention to you as they thought.

So you don't start with the exam situation straight away to combat the fear? It's important to gradually face the feeling and work on your self-confidence. First of all, those affected should stay in their comfort zone. Then they can move into the learning zone and only at the very end into the fear zone - the exam. So we first let ourselves be assessed in other areas of life before we immediately go into the exam. And in situations that unsettle us, we should ask those around us for feedback on how they assess the situation. For example, I had a situation when I moved into my apartment: It was raining, the moving box was soaking wet and the cardboard was soggy. The box fell out of my hand right in front of the front door and everything was muddy. My neighbor stood there with shirts in hand, didn't say much except "Hello, you're the new neighbor." I interpreted that to mean that she thought I was stupid and rejected me. When I brought it up later, she explained that she hadn't said anything so as not to stress me out. Our own interpretation is often incorrect.

Children can also develop fear of classwork. Is their fear different from that of adults? Fear itself is no different between adults and children. In children, anxiety can come from negative experiences with exams or be caused by extreme pressure to perform at home. The fear of class work can also act as a kind of protective function in children if they think poorly of themselves and do not believe they have many abilities.

And how can parents help their children? Instead of telling the child that they need a good grade, parents should focus on the effort. It is important for children that parents show them what they can do and what they are good at. In addition, we are less afraid of things that we have already done frequently, so taking a practice test at home makes perfect sense. Parents should do something nice with their children on the day of the exam - this will make the day nice for their son or daughter, regardless of how the exam went.