Why do we suffer from stress during exams?

It happened to everyone: fail relatively simple exam questionsWe do not know why.

Knowledge that we thought we had learned from the rebels against us at the most inopportune moment emerge questions that seem to have been transformed since the last time we wrote down the answer, and in general we have found ourselves feeling that at the time to deliver the sheet with the answers we are less intelligent than a few hours ago. It all seems to be the product of magic, some sort of invisible force that tries to lead us to failure. This invisible force is called stress.

Several studies indicate that the high levels of stress when performing cognitively demanding tasks they cause us to fail more than we can count, neutralizing the positive effect of previous practice and studies on our performance. This means that the appearance of stress “peaks” at the decisive moments harms us at the most decisive moments, which is worrying when you take into account the fact that it is very common to suffer from nerves and anxiety. when running the tests.

What role does stress play?

Stress is a cascade reaction of our hormones and nervous system this can be useful in some contexts. Its appearance puts us on alert and increases muscle tension, quickens the pulse and causes a hormonal chain reaction from the release of cortisol and adrenaline.

All of this is very useful in times when we need to give a quick physical response, like flight or combat, abilities that have probably been very important in our lineage for hundreds of thousands of years. However, stress is not so useful when the problems to be solved are more related to intelligence, intellectual performance. In fact, it can be counterproductive if administered at too high levels.

How does stress show up in exams?

It is believed that during the onset of stress during examinations and other tests act to make processes.

On the one hand, as the time for testing approaches, they may initiate behavioral patterns that enhance the onset of stress, such as procrastination, long-term studies, or even role models. soon.

However, at the time of the test stress can be exacerbated by a fish biting its tail: Thinking about failure produces more discomfort and alertness, which causes attention to focus on anticipating a negative outcome and not on the specific task at hand.

To this, we must add another aspect: the impact of obtaining one or the other result in an exam. In many universities it is common to take fewer and fewer exams, it is very important to get a good grade. One would think that the presence of a higher incentive (having a final mark obtained with only one exam) or a more severe punishment (failing an exam is a hard blow and will be reflected in the overall marks) can be used to motivate students more. and therefore improve their performance, but this could have the opposite effect.

Some research on this subject

There are several experiments in which we have seen how a very high reward can induce stress so high that the performance of volunteers drops. In one in particular, a series of volunteers were asked to solve a circuit of different tasks related to purpose and intelligence. Different volunteers had the chance to win more or less a reward. The results showed how people who opted for a higher price performed worse.

It is likely that these participants were distracted both by the possibility of not winning the reward and by the idea of ​​feeding their own stress. As happens to us in the most important tests, the need to pay attention to both the task and our own state and the possible outcome of doing it right or wrong produces cognitive overload that is difficult to get out of.

In general, it seems that this happens not only with high rewards, but also under the threat of loss or punishment. The reviews show these two sides of the incentive system, having positive and negative consequences, and also have the distinction of having nothing to do with situations in which explosive force or flight becomes the only viable solution. The key to all of this is find a way to reach the optimal stress level: Enough to be attentive to what is asked of us without the hormonal chain reaction escaping us.

Tips for controlling stress and nerves during the exam period

You can learn how to manage your nerves by reading this article:

  • 5 tips to avoid nerves before an exam

Good luck in your exams and we wish you that after reading these articles you can learn to deal with those nerves and anxiety that have not allowed you to perform at your peak. From now on, for honorary registration!

Bibliographical references:

  • Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Lowenstein, G. and Mazar, N. (2009). Big stake and big mistakes. The Review of Economic Studies, 76 (2), pages 451 to 469.

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