I peered at the clock on the classroom wall 3:02 p.m. Oh my God, I think to myself, I only have twenty-eight minutes left to finish this essay. Inside my head, panic alarms start blaring. I clutch my pen harder in my sweaty palm and furiously scribble in my test booklet. When I reach the end of a sentence, I realize I don`t know where to go from there. Around me are thirty other high school sophomores fidgeting in their seats, brows furrowed, concentrating on the prompt. I notice a feeling growing in the bottom of my belly. Oh no, not now! I shoot up from my seat, run to the front of the room, grab the wastebasket, and vomit into it as my classmates and teacher stare at me dumbfounded.
This was the most difficult academic problem I`ve ever had to overcome: my severe academic anxiety. After the ordeal, I started seeing a therapist to deal with my overwhelming stress about school. For the next two years, we met weekly to discuss what I was anxious about and practice strategies for relieving stress. Funnily enough, I ended up scoring very well on the test I was taking when I threw up the first time, which was the AP European History Exam. But learning this just instilled in me the self-destructive idea that in order to achieve high scores and grades, I needed to be working myself just as hard as I had for the AP Euro Exam. A few months into seeing my therapist, I threw up while taking a practice SAT not even the real one. I was disappointed in myself for not having made progress in my quest to reduce my academic anxiety but my therapist pointed out that holding myself to such high standards was precisely what had kicked all of this off. It was a long journey with a ton of obstacles and setbacks but eventually I learned how to take better care of myself as a student and my grades are actually even better now as a result.
My experience with academic anxiety are reflective of a much larger issue. Test anxiety among students in the United States needs to be addressed as a serious problem in the education system. Students today face an extraordinary amount of pressure, especially in school, and this pressure is perhaps at its most concentrated during high-stakes tests like the SAT, ACT, and AP Exams. High school students worried about cutthroat competition for college admissions are being made to sacrifice their mental health and sometimes physical health for the sake of academic success. If the education system won`t or can`t become less demanding, schools should at the very least be ensuring that students employ self-care techniques in handling their stress. Throwing up in the middle of a test was a wake-up call for me, and I hope that those who hold power in the education world begin to realize that the tremendous amount of hard work required of students can take a real toll on them.
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