Destigmatizing Failing a Big Exam – Don’t Let Failure Cloud Your Judgment

In the United States alone, anxiety is considered the single most common mental illness. Yet while only 18 percent of the adult population suffers from anxiety, it’s estimated that a staggering 60 percent of college students deal with debilitating fear in their day to day life.

Whether it’s homesickness or the pressures of academia, this common problem isn’t a secret among those in college. People studying for professional exams like the patent bar exam can feel it too. Students routinely skip out on meals, socializing, and sleep just to scrape by in higher-level exams.

The paralyzing fear of failure doesn’t just impact students, either. All over the country, administrators wax poetic about the fifty percent failure rate in introductory classes or stagnating freshman retention rates.

If you’re one of those who are struggling, you may find yourself routinely underperforming on exam day. Maybe you have one too many bad memories of test days. Or maybe you find yourself suffering from the physiological signs of anxiety that impede progress: hand tremors, social anxiety, nausea, and sweating.

Don’t let the fear of failure cloud your judgment. Leading up to exam day, take some appreciable steps to remain clear-headed.

Realize that Failure Isn’t a Huge Deal

It can feel impossible to perform when the deck is stacked against you. Learners commonly crunch the precise numbers they’ll need to pass the exam and progress.

Unfortunately, many fall victim to the pressures set by others. Both employers and peers set the stakes by reacting with shock or aversion to learners’ perceived underperformance.

Repeated underperformance may negatively impact your self-confidence. Not only do you imagine yourself incapable of success, but you may also perceive the results of failure as “world ending and ruinous”.

To restructure your fear, examine your own bodily and mental reactions to the thoughts of failure. In the vast majority of cases, failure isn’t that disastrous.

Instead, consider what actionable steps you can take if your worst fear materializes. Plan to open up a dialogue with the professor about your struggles, ask for extra credit opportunities, or even re-take the course.

Reframe failure as an opportunity to reflect on what needs work. Exploring our own discomforts is one of the best opportunities we have to learn and grow.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

Persistent exam anxiety is both a cause and symptom of self-isolation. If you fear failure, it can be difficult or potentially embarrassing to open up with people who may be able to help you.

Sensitive people won’t punish you for perceived faults. You’ve got to trust that the people you’ve surrounded yourself with have the best interest for you at heart.

Most importantly, speaking with peers and employers can assure you that you aren’t alone in struggling with test-day anxiety. Chances are if you fear exam failure, a considerable number of your peers do too.