Techniques for Academic Anxiety

Many students struggle with the stress and worry that comes from the ever growing workload that education, in all its levels today, require. Though being worried about school is practical and means you may care about your work (an admirable quality), this stress and worry can be internalized overtime, and the constant anxiety about school can be harmful to our mindset and quality of life (. Academic anxiety is an important and common component of education in any setting and for students or scholars who experience this, the resources and strategies provided in this website may be very helpful for you; fortunately, much research has been conducted on academic anxiety, particularly to assist teachers in their career development. However, the strategies discussed here will be both comprehensive and applicable to the many problems that come with academic anxiety.

The successful management of academic anxiety often requires a multifaceted approach that addresses issues commonly experienced by anxious students.

Effective Time Management:

For instance, managing academic anxiety requires learners’ to successfully manage the time that is devoted to class preparation. Remember, learners must have a full understanding of course materials in order to perform at an optimal level. Therefore, we recommend students follow this general timeline when preparing for upcoming assessments or examinations.

A Few Weeks Before:

  • Look ahead, set your goals and outline your study schedule timeline.

A Week Before:

  • Organize your notes and other materials so they are ready
  • Begin your review
  • Plan to space out multiple study sessions over the week

The Day Before:

  • Engage in one final, brief review of the material
  • Make sure you eat right and get adequate sleep

Use of Effective Study Techniques:

However, it is important to note that setting aside time for course/exam preparation does not ensure optimal performance. That is, effective preparation does not only involve successful time management but also involves the implementation of effective study strategies. As such, we recommend learners utilize the following strategies while preparing for course exams and other important classroom assessments.

During Class:

  • Be an active participant in each class session (e.g., take notes, pay attention presented course content)
  • Be sure to ask questions and get help if you have any problems understanding course content.

While Studying:

  • Practice “SQ3R”
    • Begin by skimming assigned readings to plan your approach
    • While skimming take time to form some initial questions you have about the reading
    • Carefully read assigned course materials
    • Attempt to recall/recite key concepts in your own words
    • Review the material by testing your understanding of key concepts
  • Use all available learning tools (e.g., companion websites, study guides provided by instructor)
  • Think about the format of the test and plan for how you will take the test
  • Revisit the materials in multiple times in different ways
    • Engage in short, frequent study sessions
    • Solidify understanding by questioning yourself, completing practice quizzes/tests, reviewing key concepts with classmates

Managing Symptoms of Academic Anxiety:

After a learner has spent time effectively preparing for an upcoming evaluation, it is important to effectively manage the symptoms of academic anxiety that have the potential to interfere with optimal performance during academic situations.

Managing Physical Symptoms:

The use of relaxation techniques has been shown to successfully reduce the influence of the physical symptoms of academic anxiety on performance. Below are some relaxation techniques that can be easily implemented by learners to combat this aspect of academic anxiety.

  • Deep Breathing Meditation:
    • A powerful, easy and quick technique to help you slow your breathing and better control the ‘stress’ reaction
  • Visualization & Imagery:
    • Uses slow breathing and peaceful, mental imagery to create a relaxed and pleasant mental state.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
    • Involves tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups while breathing deeply
    • Progress sequentially through various muscles in the body

Managing Cognitive Symptoms:

The cognitive manifestations of academic anxiety typically stem from negative self-talk (e.g., “I’ll never pass this test”, “If I fail then I will never…”). Therefore, it is important for academically anxious students to re-structure their thoughts to reflect more realistic, positive thinking. For instance…

  • “I will be okay, I can do this”
  • “Yes, this test is important, but it is just one grade in this class
  • “I am capable of passing this test”

It is also possible for students to manage negative self-talk directing their attention away from these potentially problematic thoughts. A powerful method for altering attentional focus is known as mindfulness training – or mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness training is a type of meditation designed to direct attention away from problematic internal cognitions to salient aspects of the immediate environment.

Finally, it is important for academically anxious students to avoid contact with “other negative self-talkers”.