Kristin Hohman
JRNM 151 Student

Before exams, Lorain County Community College student Hallie Brown doesn’t get sick with worry, but she does get nervous. This is especially true if the upcoming exam can lower her percentage enough to lose a letter grade..

“If tests are a huge chunk of your grade…that pressure gets to me,” Brown said.

Final exams are a demanding, frantic time for most college students. For students who suffer from anxiety, the stress can be overwhelming. So what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to stress, a natural cognitive response to a perceived threat. Under certain circumstances anxiety is rational; it helps us prepare for significant events and keeps us out of harm’s way.

Yet, people who deal with persistent anxieties may be suffering from a common mental health condition known as an anxiety disorder. Roughly 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders – 75 percent of whom experience them by the age of 22, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

These disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses. A 2008 survey of college students conducted by the Associated Press found that 80 percent of students experience daily stress, while 13 percent have been diagnosed with a mental health condition like anxiety and depression.

Test anxiety is also prevalent among college students. Characterized as a performance anxiety, test anxiety is a psychological condition that occurs when test-takers experience extreme stress and discomfort before or during an exam. Common signs of this condition include headaches, rapid heartbeat, feelings of anger, helplessness, fear, difficulty concentrating, and negative thoughts.

“It’s very common,” said Carrie Krucinski, an English and History tutor at LCCC’s Tutoring Center. “Some students just sit down for a test and blank.”

The causes of these conditions range from genetic factors to environmental stressors. Researchers believe that anxiety disorders can be inherited from family members or caused by extreme, persistent stress or trauma. Fear of failure and lack of preparation are the main reasons – as people with test anxiety tend to tie their own self-worth to the outcome of the test.

“I’m never 100 percent confident going into a test – even if I’ve studied all night. I may think ‘I know all this stuff,’ but then there’s always that thought in the back of my mind,” said Brown.

The ADAA recommends several coping strategies for those who suffer from an anxiety disorder that include eating a balanced meal, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Take a timeout by listening to music or practicing yoga, whatever it is that clears your head. Talking to a physician, counselor, friend or family member can help relieve stress as well.

For those who panic every time their professor passes out a test in class, take a deep breath. Literally. Relaxation techniques such as this help loosen your muscles and allow you better focus.

“Find out how you learn,” says Christopher Moore, a biology tutor at LCCC’s Tutoring Center. “None of us learn the same way. Be efficient.”

Dr. Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago who has conducted research on test anxiety in students, suggests that writing for 10 minutes before the test improves scores. In an interview with Science Magazine, Beilock said her research has found that students with test anxiety who write down their thoughts and feelings performed better than anxious students who did not. This is something simple students can implement on their own to boost their test performance.

Other tips for managing test anxiety are to be prepared and develop good study habits. Instead of starting to study the day before an exam, start two weeks in advance. Maintaining a positive attitude can create reasonable expectations for effective studying habits as well.

“We’re so focused on studying the facts and regurgitating the information [that] we don’t take the time to think it through and learn how to apply it,” said Brown. “ It’s just like cramming everything in your brain in a six hour period and spitting it out on the test..”

“I would say (I) obsess over [getting a good grade],” said Sne Gasa, an international student at LCCC. “I was so obsessed with getting a passing grade that I just spent the whole day going over stuff – probably over studying.”

“Don’t procrastinate,” Moore says. “Utilize the tutoring center early.”

“One thing I tell my students – before you even look at the test, take a deep breath. Read the entire test through first, all of the questions. Then write down everything you know from the test,” Krucinski says. “Be well prepared – constantly review material over the entire semester.

Do the assignments so your grade doesn’t ride on the exam. And don’t pour over your notes. LCCC has several services available to students who are struggling with either of these conditions.

The Tutoring Center is located in College Commons 204 and offers tutoring on each subject free of charge. Advising and Counseling is available by appointment and is located in LC 158, also at no charge.