What is the name of the fear of learning

Info pages of the special clinic for anxiety disorders

What is exam anxiety?

It is normal to feel tension or fear before an exam situation. Exams are challenging situations in which the human organism should be activated and aroused in order to perform at its best. Nervousness and tension are necessary and helpful in order to cope well with exam situations. One speaks of exam anxiety when

  • the person concerned feels impaired by the fear and / or the behavior resulting from it
  • the person concerned perceives the fear as excessive or inadequate
  • Exam situations almost always cause fear
  • Exam situations and / or related topics (e.g. studying for an exam) are avoided or can only be endured with intense fear.

To speak of test anxiety, all of the criteria mentioned must be met. The clinical psychologist assigns test anxiety to one of the following diagnoses:

  • It is about a Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)if the person concerned is mainly afraid of possible humiliation or embarrassment, i.e. if they are afraid of a negative evaluation by another person.
  • Exam anxiety is one Specific phobiaif the person concerned is mainly afraid of failing the exam.

Where does she come from?

Test anxiety, like any other fear response, involves physical changes. In the event of fear, the body prepares itself for an appropriate reaction (if life is in danger): fight or flight. For this it makes sense, for example, to provide better blood flow to the skeletal muscles and to stop digestion, to accelerate the heartbeat, to provide more oxygen through deeper or faster breathing and to cool the body through perspiration (or "slippery" and for attackers less easy to grip). These physical reactions are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which means that the individual person has no influence on them. Since the body cannot distinguish whether a fearful person is in mortal danger or, for example, in an exam, the physical reaction always looks the same. On the cognitive level, there are usually thoughts that increase the fear or even cause it in the first place (e.g. "I will definitely fail the exam" or "I have such a racing heart, I cannot answer the questions with such great fear"). These thoughts usually shoot through the head at lightning speed, they are accepted unchecked as facts and are called "automatic thoughts" by psychologists. Often there are logical errors in these automatic thoughts (e.g. an overestimation of the probability of failing the exam). Test anxiety is also evident in behavior: concentration is reduced as part of the attention is directed to the fear. It can happen that you can't think of anything to say, that you stutter or avoid eye contact. However, a much bigger problem arises from avoidance behavior: due to fear, the exam is canceled at short notice, one does not register at all or perhaps even avoids an apprenticeship / study in order not to get into exam situations. This leads to significant restrictions in the quality of life.

The levels of body, thoughts and behavior interact with the level of feelings (fear): if, for example, you have thoughts that make you fearful in the run-up to an exam (e.g. the questions are definitely much more difficult than in my preparation), there are physical changes as a reaction to the resulting fear ( e.g. accelerated heartbeat). This change is perceived and interpreted as threatening (my heart is racing, so I cannot concentrate on the questions), whereupon the fear increases. This again results in a physical change (e.g. sweaty hands), which is perceived and again interpreted as threatening (now I start to sweat, if I am so afraid I will fail the test) ... As described above It is normal to feel tension prior to an exam. But how can test anxiety arise? One possible cause is negative experiences in the past. If a person who was unable to answer the questions in a previous exam due to severe fear fears that this will happen again to them, they may develop test anxiety. The people concerned often assume that they can infer the future from the past (if I could not answer the questions at the time, it will happen to me again in the next exam) and overestimate the probability of such an event. Another possible cause of test anxiety is an effort to perform well. If only a very good exam is accepted, or if the person claims to answer all questions correctly, they are putting themselves under high pressure. The likelihood of not meeting your own standards is much higher than the likelihood of failing the exam. However, this difference is often overlooked and the likelihood of failing the exam is overestimated. “Learning on the model” also has an influence on test anxiety. Many people experience that people around them clearly show excitement and fear in the run-up to an exam. So you are learning that an exam is a dangerous situation to be afraid of.

How can you cope with exam anxiety?

In order to cope with exam anxiety, one prerequisite is to be well prepared. Strategies to improve learning technique can help here.

In a behavioral treatment of test anxiety, there are two main points of attack:

  • Thoughts: the thoughts are observed, automatic and fearful thoughts are identified and then questioned: are the thoughts really that logical, could the situation turn out differently, what would I say to a friend who would be in my place? The aim is to develop realistic and helpful thoughts that can be used instead of the fear-inducing thoughts (e.g. “if I am asked a question, I can pause to think before I answer” or “even if I do not answer every question can, I can still pass the exam with a good grade ”).
  • Behavior: the avoidance behavior is reduced, fearful situations should be revisited. This can initially be done through exercises (e.g. exam simulation) in which new behaviors can be practiced (e.g. keeping eye contact, asking questions). In addition, the person concerned learns a new way of dealing with fear: the fear often decreases in the course of an examination without having to do anything directly about the fear. Even in spite of existing tension and fear, you can show a good exam performance.