Image from Wikimedia Commons
*Ding ,Ding* Finally, the first bell has rung, signaling the start of yet another hour of joyous compulsory education. Just before another attempt of the scheming tardy tracker plots to confine you into its machinery of despair, you barely make it in to class and settle yourself for the next grueling task that is placed in front of you; the unsurpassable and ruthless examination of knowledge, none other than… the anticipated test. You’ve been studying for quite a while though so you know all the information and know you will be fine. Just as you get the test though, your brain empties itself of every thought regarding the test, overriding itself with a voice in your head to get it all back together before time is up. A cold sweat (rather gross though) breaks out, your heart starts racing ferociously, and you just can’t seem to concentrate at all…
This unfortunate experience is something every student has encountered at least at one point in their lives. I myself have fallen one too many times a victim to this malicious cycle of submission to the dark forces of anxiety. It has always perplexed me as to how anxiety can cause so much trouble for an individual that it can make them blank out during a test. After all, if the brain is the place storing all the information, how can one moment of panic cause one to completely lose access to it all?
And yet the answer for this mysterious occurrence lies within the brain itself.
Anxiety starts at a part of the brain located in the temporal lobe called the amygdala. The amygdala, as I also recently learned in my Anatomy and Physiology class, is a part of the limbic system which regulates feeling and interpreting of emotions, ranging from anger to psychopathic. The amygdala however, is most specific to responding to the vital emotion of fear as an evolutionary trait of survival. When the stimuli of various receptors receive information from the outside surrounding from which the brain classifies as dangerous for an individual, the sensory information sent to the brain immediately transmits the signal to the amygdala. The amygdala associates the emotion of fear with this image and stores it into the long term memory of an individual; this is so that when an individual encounters these stimuli the next time, they can avoid having another confrontation with this event. It also at that current moment sends out a signal to all parts of the brain to trigger the release of certain chemicals and hormones that bind to receptors located on specific glands (hmm this DOES sounds a little familiar if you ask me…), getting itself into the commonly known “flight or fight” mode.
In the case of test taking, fear becomes established through an individual’s negative response from within themselves rather than a direct “warning” from the surroundings. One question appears to them, and before they give their brain the chance to examine and interpret the information, they begin to withdraw from their comfort zone, resulting in their brain to release the stress releasing hormone, corticol. This causes the body to immediately increase its heart rate so that oxygen can be supplied more sufficiently to vital organs as a primitive method of survival. Thus the body takes this extra amount of stress as an indicator of “danger” and reacts to it in the form of anxiety.
So overall, the perils of test anxiety do cause much trouble for a student. Whether or not we can overcome this, it still being researched upon by scientists. Though one day, the frontiers of science shall overcome this battle; and the student will for once triumph over the perils of test taking.