Almost everyone feels anxious before an exam – it is normal to have butterflies in your stomach and worry about whether you can answer the questions correctly or if you have done enough studying. A certain amount of exam anxiety keeps us energized, motivated, alert and focused. But too much anxiety can interfere with exam performance by blocking our recall or thinking abilities, by fostering negative frames of mind or even by causing panic reactions.
"Exam Anxiety" may interfere with an individual's ability to demonstrate their knowledge, but it is not by itself a diagnosable disability which would qualify for accommodations. For some students, "exam anxiety" is a symptom of a larger and more significant disabling condition. For students who suffer from specific psychiatric disorders, such as "generalized anxiety disorder", the anxiety may be so severe in the exam setting that it significantly limits their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. The CAL will consider providing accommodations to address "exam anxiety" when that anxiety is part of an appropriately documented and recognized psychiatric disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder. Please see the documentation guidelines for psychiatric disorders for further information on the type of documentation required.
Overcoming Exam Anxiety
For advice, check the SFU Student Learning Commons’ handout on Exam Anxiety. This excellent resource can help you identify what exam anxiety is, strategies for overcoming it, relaxation methods and tips for visualizing and achieving success.
If your anxiety is severe, persistent or generalized beyond exam situations, you may benefit from seeing a physician or counsellor. Treatment for exam anxiety is available to students through SFU Health and Counselling Services. CAL Learning Specialists are also available to discuss strategies for coping with exam anxiety and to recommend specific resources for your needs.