Self-Help Information: Final Exam Panic
Final exams are stressful, but they don't have to be distressful.
Because exams require you to produce information and results, not
just receive them as in lectures, they are stressful. Your mind and
body naturally react to the anticipation of these demands. Getting
"psyched up" about finals helps you stay alert, attentive, and
Too much worry, however, may lead to final exam panic, a syndrome
known to many vet students. Below are symptoms.
You waste time worrying about your GPA/class rank rather than
preparing for finals.
Instead of studying more, you study less…until the last possible
You don't sleep much the night before the exam. You stay up late
You are convinced that you will receive a bad grade or that your
mind will go blank during the exam.
You are fine all semester, then you catch a cold or get sick
during or right after finals.
The panic preceding finals appears to result from two general
causes: distorted thinking about exams and behavioral patterns in
preparing for them. Distorted thinking is the unrealistic way vet
students think about themselves and their exams. Some feel
inadequate and are afraid exams will reveal their true inabilities.
Several worry excessively about the grades they think they'll
receive as if worrying over grades will help them prepare better.
Many endlessly compare themselves with classmates or fret over how
family or friends will react. Behavioral patterns, such as study
habits, are a second cause. Below are three types of study habit
patterns of vet students. Although not psychologically researched
types, they can be helpful in understanding how final exam panic
develops. See which type best describes you.
TYPE A ("Regular"). Concerned about learning the material
as well as performing on exams…From day one, paces self through
semester with regularly scheduled study and review periods…Usually
does not have to cram…Has positive attitude toward exams and
professors…Sees exams as opportunities to demonstrate well prepared
understanding of material…Gets a good night's rest before exams.
TYPE B ("Irregular"). Concerned about performance, but
more on an exam basis…Motivation for study sparked by the
approaching exam date…Prone to procrastination…Inconsistent study
schedule…Reviews only when absolutely necessary…Stays up late and
often has fitful sleep before exam.
TYPE C ("Infrequent"). Desire for study usually occurs at
the last moment and intensity of study not high…No study
plan…Preparation based on how student feels-study when the mood
hits…Regular review periods replaced by cramming…Some lecture notes
missing…Most material read only once and often just before exam.
Here are some tips on minimizing final exam panic. Type As won't
have to change their routine too much. Type Bs will probably
recognize the suggestions and will need to work on them. Type Cs may
have a hard time seeing how these will help, but should try them
Change Your Thinking
Rational Self-Talk. Remind yourself that an exam is a
professor's measure of your knowledge or skill in a course and not a
reflection of who you are as a whole person. Don't fret about what
friends or family think. And, forget about comparing yourself with
classmates; do the best you can. Remember that finals are necessary
and useful. Besides, would you study this hard if there were no
Don't Catastrophize. Jumping to the conclusion that you
will fail or have a mental block on the exam only creates a wall of
fear that interferes with concentration. Your negative predictions
are not facts. Focus on the present and what study steps you can
implement to prepare.
Positive Self-Statements. Give yourself pep talks to
spark inspiration. Create self-motivating statements and use them
several times each day. Try…"Studying really helps;" "I learn more
when I set aside time;" and "I'll feel better later if I study now."
Change Your Behaviors
Use "Balanced Time." Preparing for finals requires more
time than regular exams. It doesn't mean, though, that every single
remaining minute should be devoted only to study. Comprehension
suffers when you cram. Arrange for strategic breaks during 1 to 2
hour study periods. Refresh yourself with a stretch, splash cold
water on your face, eat some energy food, get fresh air, or have a
brief conversation with a study partner. Though you will devote more
time to studying, don't deprive yourself of everything.
Design a Realistic Schedule. Plan an hourly schedule of
activities for each remaining day before finals. List class time,
what you plan to study, employment, recreation, and personal time.
Check off tasks when you have finished them. You should know what,
where, and when you'll be doing something at all times. Be
realistic. You're not going to study 20 hours a day, but you might
be able to handle 6 to 8 hours if you pace yourself. Proficiency
will be down in your other responsibilities. Some non-academic
activities have to wait until after finals.
Prioritize. Decide which courses need more attention.
Identify your weak areas within each subject. Review these daily.
Subjects in which you're stronger won't require as much time.
Review Previous Quizzes and Exams. Although questions may
not be repeated, the underlying concepts may be. Familiarize
yourself with the kinds of questions asked.
Be Prepared. Have study sheets or flash cards with you at
all times. When you have an extra 5 minutes, review the handy
materials. Arrive at the test site ahead of schedule. Avoid mingling
with test-anxious classmates just before the exam. Anxiety can be
Stay in Good Physical Shape. If your mind is to be alert,
your body has to be functioning well. Try a few minutes of general
calisthenics each day. Eat sensibly. Be mindful of the effects of
excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness. Avoid non-prescription
drugs and minimize your alcohol consumption. Get regular, restful
sleep at night.
Learn to Relax. Some anxiety is necessary to keep alert,
but too much may contribute to panic. When you think of panicky or
fearful thoughts, your body reacts accordingly. As soon as you think
a negative thought, try breathing slowly and deeply, counting to
ten, smiling, stretching or telling yourself, "the answer will come
when I think things through calmly."
Solicit Support. Let people close to you know it's finals
time. Ask them to help out with family responsibilities. Postpone
some activities if they interfere too much. Form study groups with
classmates and quiz each other.
Need Additional Help?
Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these
and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY).
For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:
Donna J. Scott, PhD
The information contained in these self help
documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care. Neither
the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary
Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information
presented in these self-help documents