As the scantrons are passed out and the bubbles slowly filled, students are not the only ones collectively holding their breath. An article from University of Wisconsin College of Letters and Sciences said professors battle test anxiety as well.
Robert McGrath, a psychologist at University Health Services, said stress happens when people have demands on their time and being, and with papers and finals looming, students and professors alike are bound to feel the pressure.
McGrath said, especially for newer professors, there is some personal identity associated with how students do on finals as it can reflect how well the professor did when teaching the material.
“[Stress] would really vary from someone who is newer to the experience and identifies with how their class does with how they did as a teacher,” McGrath said. “If they have done this many times there is just some extra work, wrapping up, so it’s not anxiety-based but can still be stressful.”
UW philosophy professor Harry Brighouse said he does not feel any stress during exam time, but does not think exams properly test what students learned over the course of a semester.
Brighouse said a final exam must be well designed to properly measure what students have learned, but even then they will only reveal a slice of the knowledge students should have acquired.
“I think the exams are very imperfect tests of what students have learned and I hope my students learned a lot more than what shows up in the test,” Brighouse said.
Brighouse said he tells his students in the beginning of the year to focus less on the exam and more on maximizing how much they learn in the course, and then tries to formulate an exam that measures this knowledge.
UW student Nicole Dunn said she believes professors have no need to be stressed as long as they thoroughly taught the material.
“I feel like [professors] don’t have to be stressed during exam week because they should feel as though they did everything they could to teach their students the material,” Dunn said. “It’s the students job to study and be prepared for the exams.”
Dunn said in order to do well, students have to know all the material from the semester and that even if final exams are not the best representation of how much students have learned, they are the only “realistic” option available to test students.
McGrath, though, says different students may react differently to these tests based on their level of anxiety.
“There’s a range of that [stress] and some people have anxiety that really impairs their ability to recall significant things and when they walk out of the test they are like ‘oh!’ and they recall it then, but while in the pressure of an exam they sometimes have difficulty with that,” McGrath said.
It is important to remember to not personally identify too much with performance on exams, McGrath said. As both McGrath and Brighouse explain, these tests are not perfect and they do not necessarily reflect how much knowledge you gained from the semester.
“It is a good question, if an hour and a half exam is a good measurement of how much someone has gained, and yet our society is based on that,” McGrath said.