Worried about taking a test and failing? Do you panic and choke when doing something critical for your job or life? Findings published in Science Magazine (vol 331:211-13, 2011) show that writing about your fears just prior to taking an important test can actually elevate test scores.
Drs. Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago tested groups of high school or college age students to see if writing just prior to a test (10 minutes or so) could impact the outcome.
Dr. Ramirez and Beilock hypothesized that if prolonged long-term writing about a topic, which is a therapeutic approach to decrease depression in individuals, then maybe writing about worries just prior to an event can increase the positive outcome of that event — in this case, test taking.
It’s not just any writing, however, that makes a difference. Test scores were significantly elevated when expressive writing, or writing about the actual fears, was performed. Just writing about a non-related topic did not alter the test scores. Therefore, it is not merely a distraction from the impending test that alleviates stress and reduces pressure, it is writing about the pressure that works. This effect wasn’t limited to outcomes on writing tests. Students who did partake in expressive writing also did better on math tests as well. It could be that a simple exercise of expressing your fears on paper, or computer as apt to happen in today’s world, will provide enough of a change so that performance is enhanced.
As a follow-up to this study, it would be interesting to see if the writing exercise did actually relax the test takers or not. Who knows, this may be an easy (and cheap!) way of getting over anxiety that builds just prior to stressful situations.
For further reading please visit the n3 science communications blog