Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Leaving test anxiety on a piece of paper

Almost all of us know the feeling. An important test or exam is coming up, and we are getting nervous. The test starts, and we are having difficulty to concentrate. Some of us have experienced the worst case: a total blank. People with test anxiety have a clear disadvantage in performance situations. They can’t perform as well as they could without being anxious.

There seems to be, however, a means of helping test anxious people reduce their anxiety before important tests and exams. Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago in Illinois found that students who wrote down their feelings before the test did significantly better than others who did not or who instead wrote something on some other topic. They observed this effect in a laboratory experiment as well as in a field study. So writing down one’s feelings before a test or exam seems to reduce anxiety. Thus, one can perform according to one’s full potential.

The original article can be found here, and there is an article outlining the study here.

The researchers’ findings are pretty much in line with a theory by Ellis and Ashbrook (1988) claiming that information processing requires cognitive resources. If people worry about something, like in this case about the test, this occupies cognitive resources which could otherwise be used for processing the tasks in the test itself. Apparently, writing worries down frees the mind from them and allows full capacity to be allocated to the test or exam itself.

So if you’re nervous before writing a test or exam, write your worries down!

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