Bombed exam-Test anxiety or what???

Well, I was really doing very well in Physics. Getting a solid A and knowing what I was doing. Today was exam II and it covered a lot of material but I did not feel overwhelmed by it. I felt not overly confident but prepared enough to do decently. Well, despite knowing the concepts and understanding how to apply them, I froze. I completely went blank on quite a few things. I can do collision problems in my sleep and I found myself staring at a collision problem like it was in Greek. It was like I had completely psyched myself out. This compounded throughout the exam and I found myself out of time and then frantically just guessing problems I had no time to even work out partially. So, total bomb!

I don’t know what happened at all but I bet I’ll be lucky to get a C and that alone is a spirit killer. I am a solid A student. Lowest grade I’ve gotten on anything in the last two 1/2 years since going back to school is a B+ on a Chem II exam. The prof curves and considerinng I had an A thus far I may just be able to pull off an A if I kill the rest of the assignments, quizzes and the last exam, but darn it!!! I have never totally gone blank to the extent I did today and I was just ready to puke went I left the exam. In typical fashion, I remembered most of the problems I got stuck on and sure enough when I left the exam I was able to work them out just fine.(I can’t leave anything alone) What the heck happened? Severe test anxiety? It was just completely out of character for me! This exam score is just not going to be anywhere near reflective of my knowledge of the material or of my work thus far, but what can I do? Nada. It really blows that this one exam might hurt my grade especially knowing that it was a total fluke. Ugh. Move on, I guess…

Well Shannon I feel for you. I’ve had similar experiences for the past two or three years or so as I have returned to school. I remember looking at an Organic Chem final being glad I could remember my name!

It’s especially frustrating to me because 20 years ago I could show up for exams, usually without studying, sometimes stopping at one of the local watering holes on the way and still ace them. Today I have test anxiety (which I NEVER had before) and can even underperform on exams! Very nerve wracking, but I’m beginning to believe that this is just part of the price of delaying pre-med until I was 45 years of age.

I’m sorry I don’t have a solution for ya! In fact I clicked on the link hoping somebody had a magic pill for me! The best I have for you is the advice of a younger doctor I know. He told me that people who get into and through medical school are either very smart or very organized. Guess I had better start brushing up on the latter!


It’s so maddening when my brain fails me! I’m trying very hard not to let it dissuade me too much or convince me I somehow am not good enough. It’s so easy to feel “less than”, but I have to remind myself that this may just be a blip, an anomaly, and that I will pull it together. I had some test anxiety creep over the spring semester and it hit me hard because I was never an anxious tester so it was strange to experience. I managed to do well that semester and never bombed any exam as a result, but I often felt I could have easily done even better if I hadn’t freaked out somehow. What happened in the physics exam yesterday felt so wrong and off and just worse than anything I’ve felt before. I am blaming burnout/lack of sleep/general unlove for physics/a rushed morning and a bad headache. The thing that gets me though is that these types of issues will not go away and will likely be compounded in say med school and residency so I need to get this under some control now. Thank god I’m not trying to be a physicist, though! Getting deep into medicine will involve complex issues, no doubt, but it’s not the same as taking a physics exam (In my humble, inexperienced with “doctoring” opinion, of course). So, I think it will be okay. My passion for medicine, the human body, physiology, biology, biochemistry, etc, etc. is far greater than any general physics concept. I am sorry, but I just don’t get as excited over centripetal force, spring constants, cosine waves function for example than I do over medicine! Though, I understand the point is critical thinking, pulling out details and applying concepts and working under pressure. I “get” why med school’s want us to take two semesters of physics, if only for those reasons. So, I’ll keep playing the game and work very hard to do well and will be very happy this time next year when both physics classes are done and over as well as the MCAT.


I got a C on my second physics exam with similar circumstances. I think for me the knowledge of the time pressure caused my anxiety level to increase when I hit the first problem where I couldn’t immediately recall how to do it, and I became more frantic realizing I wouldn’t have time to finish.

What helped me was to figure out how much time the prof gives for tests divided by number of questions so I knew how many minutes on the average I had for question (2 1/2). Then practice homework (and extra problems) in timed sets of 10 problems in 20 minutes (some long, some short). Practiced relaxing and getting the ones I could just chug thru done first. Look at it - can I see exactly how to set it up - do it. Do I need to think about it? - skip it and try to pick up a couple extra minutes on some other questions before coming back to it. Also, if they use multiple choice, sometimes you can get a good estimate and eliminate some of the choices if you don’t have time to do all of it. Anyhow, that practice of time pressure with less time than I actually have on an exam allowed me to get thru the next test without panicking when a problem took an extra minute or my mind went blank for a moment. I also verbalized my strategy for different problem types out loud : when I’ve got a resonance problem I need to first __, then __, then ___. Set it up that way and solve for what is unknown." Tried to characterize types of problems so on the test I could say “oh, it’s a ___ problem. Here’s how I’ll need to set it up”. That helped my confidence a lot.

Best of luck. I’m sure you’ll find some work-arounds that work well for you.


That’s great advice, Kate. I don’t why I never thought to try out doing problems in a timed fashion. I do know how many question are on each exam including how many are more involved problems so I think this is a good strategy to prepare for my third and final physics I exam in two weeks. Thanks!

Well, as for Tuesday’s exam, I did not do well as I expected. However, neither did anyone else. The class average was just over 50%. I did better than that and with my strong grades in the course thus far I am still holding on to an A overall. You can’t imagine my relief at seeing that! I still wish I had done better on this 2nd exam, and I know I could have as the material wasn’t foreign to me or anything and I worked out many similar problems over and over successfully. It was a good learning experience, though, and I hope to pull it together for the last exam. If I keep doing what I’m doing on the assignments and the many quizzes, prepare well for the third exam and hopefully not have a brain freeze during it I think I may just pull off that A.

The timed questions strategy will also help in MCAT prep. I did at least 5 of the AMCAS old MCATs “realtime”, and found that practice to be instrumental in finishing the real exam without a lot of unanswered questions.

There were many questions on my MCAT that I was unsure of, but I didn’t waste time perseverating on them. If I had worked till I KNEW I had the right answer (which is my natural tendency), I would have bombed the overall test due to running out of time instead of getting the score I wanted on my first try.

Good luck as you stay the course!

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