Harun Herceg, Educational Counsellor and Psychologist, Elci Ibrahim- Pasha's Madrasah, Travnik, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Harun Herceg has fulfilled his love of psychology by pursuing applied psychology in everyday life. Together with his students, Harun has participated in an interfaith high school project. He attended numerous seminars and training courses in the field of psychology, human resource management, business communication, project cycle management, modern teaching methods and assessment, conflict resolution, and stress at work. He is the author of the book “Test Anxiety and Coping with Exam Stress among Students”.


The very term anxiety is used to denominate the feeling that people experience when faced with a threat, danger or when under stress.  Vulic-Prtoric (2006) defined anxiety as “an emotional state characterised by feelings of discomfort, restlessness and tension, and antipathy to possible danger, as well as many physiological reactions including rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure and physical tension”. In this regard, anxiety disorders are not clustered as one disease, but represent a group of diseases characterised by a long-term feeling of great stress as well as extreme discomfort. Anxiety is a very common problem nowadays. Approximately one in ten people consult a doctor for feelings of tension, anxiety or worry. Anxiety has the following symptoms: sweating, tingling, trembling, feeling choking, nausea, dizziness, stomach problems and feeling that some kind of catastrophe is bound to happen.

The Concept of Examination Anxiety

According to Erceg (2007), the intensity of exam anxiety increases as a function of age following a negative acceleration curve – it first rises sharply after which its growth levels, and finally stabilises at the age of eighteen. Exam anxiety as a trait is a relatively stable characteristic of the individual, with many stimuli related to assessment situations perceived as a serious personal threat with a tendency to intense anxiety (ibid.). Exam anxiety is most often defined as a state of excitement, tension and feelings of discomfort that occur in assessment situations, after them and while thinking or conceptualising them. Here we have the following factors that affect exam anxiety: reduced performance is associated with lower school performance and low self-esteem, negative attitudes towards school, addiction and passivity are associated with aggression, unfavourable status among peers and poor relationships with teachers.

The Role of Family and School in the Development of Anxiety in Children

Some research suggests that the family may play a role in the development of anxiety in children while learning. Namely, an association between parental behaviour and child anxiety has been established. Children of parents who model anxiety behaviour, i.e. describe problems to children as unsolvable or threatening, may begin to believe that there is no successful way to deal with problems or develop strategies to reduce anxiety. Likewise, parents of children with learning difficulties are more anxious than parents of children without such difficulties. According to Vulić-Prtorić (2004), anxiety symptoms are usually grouped into four main areas that interact with these are “physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural”. For the examination, they used scales containing lists of described symptoms compiled on the basis of scales for adults, and their task was to assess the frequency or intensity of the symptoms. Fear that occurs after physical symptoms or anxiety sensitivity is crucial for development of anxiety. We label anxiety sensitivity as the fear that the changes associated with anxiety, such as palpitations, tremors or abdominal pain, will have negative social, psychological or physical consequences.

Relationship With Regard to Age

Children’s fear of assessment has increased in recent years. The reason for this trend is either because children address psychologists more often or because the number of the concerned indeed rises every year. The ratio of detected to undetected children is assumed to be 1:8. Since the results of research often determine the entire further professional and personal life of an individual, it is considered of great importance to study this concept within psychology. Studies on the existence of age differences in exam anxiety have shown that it occurs in lower primary school, that it increases with age, especially in children aged 9 to 12. These changes take place in parallel with changes in cognitive development. Exam anxiety increases with increased complexity of teaching content, but also with increased severity of the social consequences caused by failure.

Causes of Tension and Stress

It is important to understand that exam anxiety arises from tension, not stress. Stress is the body’s response to all the demands made. Tension, in turn, occurs when the body responds wrongly to stress causes. Stress is like body temperature – it increases and decreases. We have to strike the right balance. Our body cannot distinguish between positive and negative stress. For some people, a certain amount of stress improves the success of a task; but for most, stress diminishes the ability to perform a task. Stress is a biological term for the consequences of an individual’s inability to adequately respond to emotional or physical threats to the body. These threats can be real or imagined, and involve an alarming state in which the release of adrenaline increases, causing great exhaustion.

Anxiety in Students

In today’s society, schooling is one of the most important areas during the life of each individual. This points to the fact that learning and achievement in school have a strong impact on the experience of student emotions. Students often face stressful school situations, such as writing assignments, challenging tasks, peer contacts and group work. These are situations that inevitably provoke different emotional reactions. According to Pekrun (2005), since the 1990s, researchers in the field of educational psychology have begun to focus on different emotions in students, but also in teachers, as well as the impact on learning, behaviour, personality traits and health. Emotions began to be studied as part of motivational processes. In the same vein, Pekrun’s (2006) theory of control and value is interesting because he states that emotions play a primary role in activating, maintaining or reducing student motivation and processes closely related to motivation.

Dealing With the Examination Situation

Emotions experienced in assessment situations can help the student achieve their set goals and have a beneficial effect on their subjective personality, but they can also be devastating. “Emotional regulation refers to attempts by individuals to influence what emotions they will experience, when they will experience them, and how they will express them” (Gross, Richards, John, 2006:14). Emotions and their regulation can also be viewed as part of a broader process of students’ self-directed behaviour, which includes transactions that lead to a goal and in which students make assessments of their own performance with respect to achieving that goal” (Schutz and Davis, 2000). These assessments determine the type of emotions experienced, their intensity, attempts and ways to regulate them, and the probability of success in achieving the desired goal. Emotional regulation in assessment situations involves different processes by which students monitor, evaluate and modify their emotional experiences.

Exam Anxiety More and More Affects the Students

anxiety becomes a problem when it occurs at a time when there is no real threat or when it continues long after the stressful situation has passed. Anxiety disorders are not clustered as one disease, but a group of diseases characterized by a long-lasting feeling of great stress as well as extreme discomfort. The diagnosis of anxiety disorder is usually made in people when the degree of their tension reaches an extreme that greatly disrupts their daily lives and prevents them from doing what they would like.

During the assessment, it is necessary to take into account the students’ abilities, the conditions in which students work and live, and their prior knowledge, skills and habits. The child brings to school a set of certain knowledge, skills and habits that are collected through interactions in the family and preschool institutions. The task of the school as an educational institution is to nurture the already acquired characteristics of students, systematically and gradually expand and deepen them.

Emotions experienced in assessment situations can help the student achieve their set goals and have a beneficial effect on their personality, but they can also be devastating. A key element of emotion regulation within the task-oriented process dimension relates to trying to keep the focus on the exam task itself. This includes thoughts and tactics that help the student stay focused on the task and prevent the occurrence of potentially distracting and negative thoughts about themselves or the task.

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