Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™
SCHOOL: College Fears and Exam Anxiety
So, I'll need more than one piece of advice, but I've decided to put all my doubts together in one single letter because it's all related to the same thing: school.
I'm currently 16 so I'm two years away from college. College was never something that bothered me because I never thought much about it, but now I have no choice but to do so. I mean, after all, it'll become a huge part of my life terrifyingly soon. I'm in the science major at school and, even though I've been looking at course options for a year and a half and I have an idea of what I want to do, it still isn't clear - and this is so scary to me! I want to be 100% sure when I pick a course because it'll define pretty much the rest of my life but, taking into account how things are going so far, I have reasons to suspect this might never happen and it's terrifying me...
Also concerning college, there's another thing that intimidates me. What if I'm not good enough? The scientific courses are very demanding and, even though I have pretty good marks right now, I'm not sure I'll make it in university. The beginning of this year was probably the hardest change in my life ever. In all the previous school years, I had excellent marks without much effort, so when I started 10th grade and my marks went down so fast, I didn't know how to handle it. I'm now back on track, of course, as I've created studying habits and I finally understood the work rythim I have to keep up, but what if this happens again in college and I can't handle it? This year, my parents pay for my private lessons (which have also helped me to keep up) but college is extremely expensive and they won't be able to do that for me anymore...
Lastly, how does one deal with anxiety before and during tests and exams? Because no matter how much I've tried, I haven't been very successful in mastering that... This is a serious problem because it even affects my grades! Are there any techniques or strategies I can try? Thank you for taking my letter into consideration and I'm sorry it was so long! Isabel
Thank you for sharing your fears and concerns with us, and let me assure you that they are normal and do not reflect a lack of ability on your part. One thing to keep in mind is that the best predictor of college success is past educational success. From what you have said in your letter, you have been successful in your educational environment, and you have shown the ability to assess your situation and make the changes necessary for you to be successful. Those skills will definitely help you be successful in college.
When you entered 10th grade, I would guess that your environment changed and you had to find new skills that would enable you to be successful. You did that, and that is no different from what you will experience when you enter college. The study habits that you have established, and an understanding what you need to do to keep up with your assignments and studies are skills that you will also use in the college environment. It sounds like you are flexible, and that characteristic will carry you through your college experience. Time management is important and it sounds like you have the skills to effectively manage your time.
Test anxiety is normal. Several things that might help you is to remind yourself that your performance on any exam does not reflect your worth as a person. Exams are opportunities to illustrate what you have learned, and since it sounds like you have effective study habits, I don't think that will be a problem for you. Much of being successful in college is to understand what a particular professor desires you to know, and there is plenty of opportunity to visit your professors and to talk about any concerns you might have. Most of them will be happy to help and will see their role as one in which they are there to help you be successful. Your success is their success as well. In addition, all college environments will have seminars and workshops designed to help you deal with test anxiety. You can check with the counseling office to see what programs might be available for you.
Several times in your letter you ask the question "what if...". What if I fail an exam, or what if I'm not successful in a particular class. I would suggest that you change the question to "So what if....?" When you ask "so what if I fail this exam?" you begin to explore options that might be available to help you cope with the situation. You can always ask for more help, talk to your professor, talk to a counselor, ask other students what they do to be successful, etc.
With respect to choosing a major, one of the goals of college is to help a student explore possible areas of interest so that they can make better choices when it comes to choosing a major. More than 50% of students change their major at least once, and that is good. When you enter college you have little information of what is actually involved in a career related to specific majors. College offers you the opportunity to do that. Take a class that you feel you might be interested in, talk to people who work in areas of your interest, and understand that you will be gathering information that will help you make a better career decision in the long run. I think we do a disservice to students if we expect them to make a career decision in their freshman year.
From what you have written in your letter you express the attitude of a capable and flexible student, and I have no doubt that you will experience success in college. I urge you to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy your college experience. I hope some of this helps. Thanks again for writing Isabel, and I wish you be best in your future.