College students struggle with exam stress and anxiety

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Students walking to the BYU Testing Center. Student anxiety over exams is increasing according to students in the survey. (Sadie Blood)
Students walking to the BYU Testing Center. Student anxiety over exams is increasing according to students in the survey. (Sadie Blood)

A study of more than 2,000 senior college students says fear of lower grades and eventual job market failure are major factors in exam stress and anxiety.

Students at campuses around the U.S. participated in the study, hosted by Stop Procrastinating.

“Our survey shows that students think the stress and anxiety caused by their final exams is getting worse,” Stop Procrastinating Director Rob Jones said. “The jobs market for young people is one cause of this, with many believing that they have to perform at their very best in order to get the grades for a job.”

Survey results show that 64 percent of students worry that their exam stress is negatively affecting their grades and academic performance. Existing stresses stem from the the pressure to succeed academically and get a successful job after graduation. Stress is also linked to constant distractions such as social media and to a lack of motivation.

“Students are stressed out because they don’t have their priorities straight,” said BYU adjunct psychology professor W. Ben Hill. “They try and make it through college by doing the least amount of work possible. Perhaps there is a disconnect between what it truly takes to get good grades.”

Students report that exam fears are negatively affecting their mindset and other factors in life. Thirty-seven percent of college students struggle with loneliness and fear that not being successful in college will affect their future career. This fear causes them to neglect or abandon their social life altogether.

“Balance is key. Obviously doing well in school should be at a top priority, especially during such a stressful period such as exam times. But it’s also critical to learn to relax your mind and unwind,” said Utah Valley University behavioral science graduate Paige Clegg. “Socializing is a great way to relieve stress for college students. When your mind isn’t drowning in to-do lists and stress, it’s able to focus more easily.”

Twelve percent of students admitted to using performing-enhancing drugs to help them cope with the stress.

“It’s easy to fall into patterns of escape, or avoidance, that temporarily feel good, but of course end up causing even more spiraling,” said BYU Counselor Dallas Jensen.

Temporary stress relief  can come to students from a variety of sources. Students self-medicating for escape learn to find relief wherever they can through whatever means they have.

The Counselling and Psychological Services Center in the Wilk. Students dealing with exam stress often come here to speak to professionals about stress management and anxiety. (Sadie Blood)
The Counselling and Psychological Services Center in the Wilkinson Student Center. Students dealing with exam stress often come here to speak to professionals about stress management and anxiety. (Sadie Blood)

“The biggest self-medication is distraction. TV, books, social media and all those things can suck you into a dangerous whirlpool. Self-medication is an escape tactic from reality,” Hill said. “Everyone needs it, but we need to make sure the distraction isn’t dangerously dominating. Ask yourself, does the distraction drain you or fill you?”

Students offered their advice and strategies to cope with the stress of exams. Their advice included blocking the Internet, exercising, talking to a friend or counselor, rewarding oneself or making a plan to do a little bit of work each day to stop procrastination.

“When I’m stressed about tests, I try to make sure I spend time with people instead of turning to video games or TV to help myself wind down,” BYU undergraduate Emilie Davis said. “Quality time is how I keep perspective. I also like going on walks and planning fun things to look forward to so that I don’t feel hopeless.”

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