Fear of the F-word… Failure!

Failure… that dreaded word that somehow creeps its way back into every student’s head at the beginning of each new semester. New classes, new Profs, new reading lists and of course new exam dates that start stressing you out even though they’re months away. Our society often measures a young person’s capabilities by the results of these standardized tests, therefore making these situations packed with anxiety for many students. “What if I fail?” a question that goes through every student’s head the night before a big exam. So much pressure is put on obtaining good results on these tests that the stress of possibly failing can sometimes paralyze students from succeeding. Even though today’s students are particularly familiar with the concept of standardized testing, they continue to cause overwhelming anxiety for certain students due to the fact that the result can have a large impact on their future. Along with final exams for university classes, some widely known tests include the SATs, MCAT, LSAT, MGAT, and others. Due to this, research has gone into understanding the anxiety that accompanies these types of testing situations.

Holy A. McGregor and Andrew J. Elliot conducted a study at the University of Rochester on the link between fear of failure and shame. Their studies showed that for students that present high levels of anxiety about failing, events such as standardized tests are not moments where they feel they can prove themselves and learn something new, but instead they are moments where they feel very judged and insecure. Due to this overwhelming fear of failure, many students often do not put themselves out there to try something new, and instead fall into a recurring tendency to fail.

Additionally, Carlos Goldberg from the University of Indianapolis looked at the consequences of ‘fear of failure’ and its effects on one’s self-esteem. The study found that someone who is failure-threatened is often someone who has failed in the past and has a high score on the Test Anxiety Questionnaire (TAQ), a test to measure the amount of anxiety someone has in an academic setting. Again, a student that is insecure about standardized tests could have the mindset that they are not going to do well before they even walk into an exam and that could negatively affect their performance.

There is often a stigma around failing, yet it happens to so many of us. So instead of dwelling on past failures and allowing them to negatively affect current exams, students should encourage one another to use them as learning opportunities to help succeed in the future. So with the upcoming midterm season approaching remember to not let past exams and the ‘fear of failure’ get to you!

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