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Test Anxiety Can Improve After Writing Exercise


Many people suffer from “test anxiety”, where you have appropriately studied hard for an exam but when it comes time to answer questions you freeze up or blank out. Because test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, writing exercise that allows you to work out your feelings beforehand and help improve scores.

Writing About Anxiety Can Alleviate Stress and Improve Performance

Anxiety is a reaction to anticipating something stressful. During test anxiety, the body releases the hormone adrenaline which begins the “fight or flight” reaction, bringing on physical symptoms such as sweating, pounding heart, and rapid breathing. This tends to cause additional stress, causing the person to be even more distracted and focused on the thought of bad results.

People who are perfectionists are more likely to have trouble with test anxiety because they find it harder to accept mistakes. Students who are not well prepared but still care about doing well are also likely to suffer. Text anxiety can cause as much as a 10-15 percent drop in test scores or three-quarters of a grade point less on a final course grade.

Read: Depressed Students May Drop Out of College

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder developed a writing exercise to help reduce the stress of taking an exam. They tested it on men and women taking a course in physics. The exercise encouraged “affirmation” and the participants were to write about their feelings specifically about personal values in the first and fourth weeks of the course.

“We saw a beneficial effect for the women on each of four exams and on the final course grade,” said associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Tiffany Ito.

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Another set of researchers also tested the writing assignment on high school and college students taking math tests. The students wrote about their fears and anxieties.

University of Chicago associate professor in psychology Sian Beilock wrote, “Writing for eight or 10 minutes before the test put anxious students on a par with students who didn’t worry.” The students who took the writing assignment scored a grade point higher on their tests than those who didn’t take it.

Read: Physical Fitness in Children Associated with Higher Test Scores

Writing is a well-documented positive exercise for dealing with stress and anxiety. Expressive writing about a traumatic or emotional effect is an effective way to get people to stop worrying. Because you get the source of anxiety out on paper, you don’t need to ruminate about it during the test and are better able to concentrate. Some experts suggest a similar technique for those who have trouble sleeping due to worry.

In addition to writing, there are other things a student can do to alleviate test anxiety prior to an exam:

• Ask for help – a teacher, school guidance counselor or tutor can be a good resource.
• Be Prepared – Good study skills are important to prevent “cramming” before a test, further increasing stress levels.
• Accept mistakes – no one is perfect; mistakes are learning opportunities.
• Take care of yourself by eating right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.

Source Reference:
"Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom"
Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L. Beilock
Science 14 January 2011: 331 (6014), 211-213. [DOI:10.1126/science.1199427]