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Test anxiety

A certain amount of nervousness and tension before an exam is perfectly natural and even positive, as it heightens concentration, staying power, and creativity. Most students are familiar with this feeling.

True test anxiety, however, is something else entirely. Some students experience genuine panic before and during test situations, up to and including physical and mental distress. Symptoms and their intensity can vary widely, and can include sweating, cold hands, nausea, dizziness, memory loss, and blackouts. This can lead to mental blocks, which can seriously affect students’ performance. The most important factors are the intensity of the fear and the frequency of attacks. Almost all students have experienced fear in a test situation, and that anxiety can make it harder to structure your thoughts or solve problems. Test anxiety becomes a real problem when it is a permanent condition. Test anxiety can occur both in the time before an exam as well as in the test situation itself.

Test anxiety can be triggered by a variety of individual causes. Usually situations that the student experienced in the past (e.g. in school) play a major role, for example negative experiences at school or during exams. 

Should you suffer from extreme test anxiety, you need to get expert help, or try to get to the bottom of the root cause of your anxiety.

The Psychological Counseling Centers for students can help you get over your test anxiety in individual counseling sessions or group work. Their services are available free of charge and are completely confidential. You can also contact them anonymously if desired.


Here are some tips to help you be more relaxed in exam situations:

Fear of an exam is often caused by feeling insecure about your grasp of the materials, so being well prepared for the test can reduce anxiety considerably. Study for your exams conscientiously and without time pressure. Completing sample exams and solving the exercises provided by the instructor can also increase your confidence levels. The resources provided by WU on the LEARN platform are ideal for this.

Make sure you have all available information on the materials you need to learn and about which aids you are allowed to bring to the exam. Complete the online exercises and sample exams to get a feel for possible test questions (see LEARN). Another option is to talk to fellow students who have already taken a particular exam. For oral exams, it’s a good idea to attend exams held by the same examiner as a spectator. The oral part of a subject examination is public, and the individual times and dates are published on the respective institutes’ websites.

Studying marathons right before exams create a great deal of pressure, and it is often not possible to cover large amounts of material in such a short time. Learning progress does not always go at the same pace, either: Sometimes you can absorb a lot of information in a short time, other times it seems like you’re not progressing at all. Our brains need this “down time” to process all the information they are given. Even if it’s not always easy: Study continuously throughout the semester. This allows you to compensate for times when you learn less efficiently without becoming overly stressed before exams. This also gives you more opportunities to include relaxation phases (sports, friends, social events) without feeling guilty. You will then be well prepared and confident for your exams.


Interested in reading up on this topic some more? Here are a few references (in German):

  •        Hafner, Bettina; Kronenberger, Ursula:
    Entspannt Prüfungen bestehen. Ein Manual für Studierende in Lern- und Prüfungszeiten, Bern: Verlag Hans Huber 2015
  • ·     Knigge-Illner, Helga: Prüfungsangst besiegen: Wie Sie Herausforderungen souverän meistern, Frankfurt/M.: campus concret 2010
  • ·     Walther, Holger: Ohne Prüfungsangst studieren, Constance and Munich: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft 2015
  • ·     Wolf, Doris; Merkle, Rolf: So überwinden Sie Prüfungsangst: Psychologische Strategien zur optimalen Vorbereitung und Bewältigung von Prüfungen. Mannheim: PAL-Verlag 2001