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Fear of exams

Questions, homework, university exams, job interviews and all the tests that life throws at us usually scare us a little.

The desire to do well, to be appreciated and recognized in our value, the desire to express ourselves, what we are passionate about, to obtain a much desired success, inevitably collides with the possibility of not succeeding, an eventuality that scares us. but which, likewise, it is necessary to take into account.

Being afraid of a test that we are about to face, an exam that we are about to take, is important: it allows us to focus on what we want and to channel our energies into the efforts necessary to obtain it; allows us to maximize our chance of passing the exam.

Sometimes the fear is of moderate intensity, sometimes barely perceptible: in any case, it constitutes the fuel that pushes us to study, to give our best.

But what happens when the fire that warms us fear becomes a fire that takes over?

Anxiety, pressing and disturbing worries, difficulty concentrating, memory lapses: from a possible occurrence to an almost certain fate, failure becomes a threat that deprives us of serenity and clouds our minds to the point of risking becoming a “self-fulfilling prophecy “. And so, even when we are very prepared, the terror we feel can lead us to avoid the exam, to stay at home, not to answer the roll call or to get up and leave when the professor asks us the first question that we also knew. With a lot of effort, we can try to resist fear, but the anxiety that pervades us can affect our performance, make us perform much less than we could.


Why do we come to feel the possibility of failure as an inexorable fate? Why does the possibility of not reaching our goal become something very probable and intolerable?

A couple of prototypical situations (invented names).

Giulio has always been criticized by his parents: whatever he did was not good for them, any grade he got at school was never enough. His parents’ lack of appreciation, their constant criticism, led him to develop the pathogenic belief that whatever he did would never be up to par, his need to be appreciated would never be satisfied. So, for him, going to take the exam meant exposing himself to certain criticisms that would make him feel despised again, not enough. Avoiding the exam was for him a way to protect himself from this eventuality, but at the same time further proof of his lack of value. When he could not give up, anxiety often led him to freeze, to stammer, not to be able to express himself as he would have liked: the lower grade than the one hoped for became for him once again the proof that it was not enough. And when the exam went very well it was only because the professor had been particularly good or a matter of luck, according to him. He subconsciously felt that his parents could not have been wrong and that he actually, as they said, was not enough.

Lorena grew up with a single mother who dropped out of school to look after her after being left by her boyfriend. The latter has always suffered from this and for this reason, over the years, she often reproached Lorena for having had a whole series of opportunities that had been closed to her. Once she passed the admission test for university, Lorena began to develop a strong fear of exams which reflected an unconscious sense of guilt that she had developed towards her mother: “if she had achieved the success she desired, her mother would have suffered a lot ”, the unconscious pathogenic belief that plagued him.

What to do?

Contacting a psychologist can help you understand how your fears do not have to do with your incapacity or lack of value, but rather reflect the derivative of past situations that can be processed and overcome; the fruit of unconscious pathogenic beliefs that need proof to be abandoned. A psychological intervention can help you become aware of it and find this evidence, so that fear returns to be the fire that warms you and accompanies you to the goal you want.

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