Target Panic: When Exams are the Target

In archery, there is a condition called target panic. The archer looses control of their emotions and is not able to hit the target no matter how hard they try. In fact, the harder they try, the more it seems the target evades them. In essence, target panic is a mental block. We love archery for its many benefits, but more importantly for the lessons it teaches us when applied to life.


Students may sometimes perform poorly on an exam. They may have studied, but for some reason are unable to recall anything during the test. This may be due to stress and anxiety. Our body is equipped with epinephrine or the hormone of emergency otherwise known to cause people to fight, flight or freeze. This is great in times of real stress like getting out of a burning building, or running from a predator. However, in today’s day and age our bodies can react and even over-react to non-life threatening dangers such as traffic jams, work dead lines, hitting a target and yes even taking exams.




Some people may stress out so much before an exam that they completely forget anything and everything that they may have learned. After all, look at how much emphasis has been placed on standardized testing. During these times of stress the amygdala can take over and make someone completely loose their mind. However, teachers can help by providing students a little bit of time prior to a test to sit and relax. The more relaxed the student becomes the more likely they are going to be able to think straight and perform better on the test.


Target panic is real in archery. It is a condition which is dealt with by helping the archer relax. The more relaxed the archer can make their body and mind, the more likely they are to execute a better shot. It is the same for students. The more they focus on the target, in this case the exam, the more likely they are to stress. This is due to the fact that our mind will create all types of scenarios if we fail. The key word being “if”. These “if’s" may never come to be, but the mere thought of them may be enough to make us loose control of our brain and emotions, and allow the amygdala to activate fight, flight or freeze.


Give students time before a test to simply breathe. Guide students to focus on their breathing for two minutes prior to a test. This will bring their attention to the breath and help the mind from wandering to all the negative scenarios that will cause anxiety and stress. Focusing on the breath helps everyone stay in the present moment rather than recalling the past or anticipating the future.

Focusing on the breath is one way to help those students who seem to have studied and paid attention in class, but just can’t seem to pass the test.

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