Stress Behind the Desk


Student stressing while taking a virtual test.

Daisey Marciano and Mirella B

Two #2 pencils are placed on your desk. The room is dead silent aside from the echoing clink of the proctor’s shoes consuming your mind. You look around at your classmates sitting in their assigned seats tapping their feet, flicking their pencils, trying to distract themselves from their looming assignment. Papers are shakily passed back and the directions read aloud. Then the dreaded words, “You may begin,” consume your attention. You stare blankly at your test, every possibility surfacing. You try the breathing techniques others recommended, but nothing is successful at calming your nerves. You glance at the clock, 10 minutes have elapsed and you’re still rereading the first question. Holding back tears and convincing yourself that your nausea is solely anxiety, you firmly grip the desk to steady yourself and attempt to relax. 20 minutes. You look around to see everyone’s already turned a few pages. Panic surfaces, you have to finish. Everyone is almost done and you’re still on the first few questions. You feel so alone, the only one who has barely started. 

Except you are not alone. It is unknown exactly how many students struggle with testing anxiety, but the number is estimated to be around 40%. Out of the 40 WESS high school students we interviewed, nearly 30 expressed some signs of testing anxiety. Of course, stress is common before testing, however, testing anxiety could severely affect one’s mental or physical performance and debilitate their daily life. Based on the interviews, the most common symptoms include stress, overthinking, shakiness, blanking out, and stomach ache. Others had a more extreme reaction ranging from trouble breathing to headaches and nausea. Answers also tended to revolve around parental or personal expectations for high performance, especially surrounding the numerical score. 

When referring to podcasts, articles, or youtube videos, many seemingly supportive phrases such as, “a number doesn’t define you,” and “you won’t remember your score in ten years,” are the majority of the advice provided. However, this motivation doesn’t address the root of the issue, heightened expectations, and society’s definition of success. As an individual, you can’t solely change this notion, but through a growth mindset and supporting others, can have a significant effect. 

Before your next test, it’s important to keep in mind that though societal and internal standards are inevitable, the only person you’re up against is yourself.