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I have this class where we have oral exams once in two weeks. I am honestly trying my best. I am preparing for the class and I think I understand all the material. I can do all the assignments (albeit not as good as I want to but still). But I am really nervous during oral exams and class discussions. I don't understand and can't focus on the questions that are asked (when someone's saying something my mind just goes blank and I can't hear(?) what they are saying; like I hear the words and I know each word but I can't make the connection between words at all). I stopped participating in class discussions because I was so anxious during them that I needed to take a rest for a few hours after them.

I always feel confident before exams start, but during the actual exam, I get so lost, and sometimes I can't understand the questions that are asked. I don't think I can email prof about it because I honestly don't know what he can do or what I should say. Everyone is in the same situation but they seem to do way better (he said that everyone is getting 9.5/10 all the time but I only got 9.8/10 once and the rest of the grades are not good).

The worst part is that it is an open book exam and I am writing little notes for each question that I think can be asked, I always put myself in my prof's shoes and trying to figure out what he can ask but I never get it right. I am so tired of this and I really want to drop this class but it's too late right now AND I have a project with another guy that's taking the class. This is my final year, and the low grade for this class would look so bad in my application especially since I don't really have any other experience

UPDATE: I talked to my prof even tho I felt that it wasn't their problem (burden). If you have a similar issue, please talk to your prof/teacher. In the worst-case scenario, they will say that they can't help you but at least they will know that you have a problem. Just want to thank everyone who commented here!

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    Have you considered a mental health professional? Both therapy and medication can be helpful for anxiety. Who knows whether either will work for you, but it's their job to help you figure it out!
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 6 '20 at 0:23
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    I’m voting to close this question because it needs to be answered by a mental health professional who has personally examined the asker. Nov 6 '20 at 3:46
  • @BryanKrause I considered but I thought it wasn't a big problem
    – judie
    Nov 6 '20 at 3:52
  • @allana Doesn't need to be a big problem. If it's big enough to affect parts of your life, it's worth a shot to see if it might help!
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 6 '20 at 4:32
  • Toastmasters helps with public speaking - check if there is a chapter in your area.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 6 '20 at 16:47
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I'm not a mental health professional, but it sounds like your anxiety is interfering with your performance in this class.

You may be eligible for some accommodation to immediately triage your grade. If your university has a center for students with disabilities, talk to them and see if there's a process to get you started to talk to a doctor and get a diagnosis about whether your anxiety is serious enough for accommodation. They may have some kind of form you need to bring to the appointment, and can otherwise help you with bureaucracy.

I would also talk to your professor. While you are likely meant to get better at public speaking in this class, many profs will work with you to meet you where you're at and find additional ways to assess your comprehension of the material independently of testing your public speaking.

Also I agree practice will help in the long run, but that doesn't mean you need to fail the class in the short run! Ask for some help and see if people will work with you. No university class should feel this hopeless. You should be able to get better in the timescale of the class if you put in work. Ask for help if the conditions seem insurmountable.

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    I agree with this; the wrong answer would be to not tell anyone and just struggle alone. Start exploring resources right away.
    – Jeff
    Nov 6 '20 at 18:32
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    thank you! I talked to my prof and they helped me a bit with this. They told me to go to the center for students with disabilities but unfortunately, the procedure takes a whole month (tho I will still go because I have another term!). Thank you again:)
    – judie
    Nov 7 '20 at 0:07
  • I'm so glad to hear it! It's probably a good idea to tell the prof about the month-long wait and ask if there's anything that can be done in the meantime to help you succeed in the class given your struggle with public speaking (maybe giving you a written exam for example). Best of luck!
    – Well...
    Nov 7 '20 at 1:33
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This answer won't seem very satisfactory, I'm afraid, but the way to improve in such things is just practice (and more practice).

There are some other things you can do to make speaking more comfortable. Once very important computer scientist who is also very (very) introverted, learned to become an excellent public speaker by (among other things) joining a theatre group. He plays a role when he speaks so doesn't get emotionally involved it the stress of it. But, again, the theatre group gave him the means to practice.

One key to making this a long term goal is to seek out ways to practice, not to avoid them.

In the short term, however, it might help with some professors to just tell them of your discomfort and unease in oral exams. They might find ways to reassure you, though you will still be expected to give adequate answers.


Note that I once suffered from the same "affliction" and it cost me a couple of years in my education. But I eventually learned to overcome it.

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  • Thank you for your answer! The thing is I am surprisingly good at public speaking; I had a few projects that I had to present and all of my profs said I am really good at talking to the audience and in general I seem very confident. I don't know what is that with oral exams that's different since I still present my answer to the audience (prof) and I am pretty confident about my preparation for the exam (if anyone just casually asks me to explain something, I can answer with no problem).
    – judie
    Nov 6 '20 at 0:22
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    Scare quotes around "affliction" is unfair to people with diagnosed anxiety disorders. Nov 6 '20 at 3:17
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    Any answer which does not refer the asker to a mental health professional is inappropriate. academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4700/… Nov 6 '20 at 3:48
  • @AzorAhai--hehim, what the OP describes is entirely normal, There are others with actual disorders, of course.
    – Buffy
    Nov 6 '20 at 12:06
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, I think you are over-reacting in this case.
    – Buffy
    Nov 6 '20 at 12:07

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