Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reducing Test Anxiety

Some students get so anxious before tests that their test performance falls well below their abilities. The effect is usually greatest on high-stakes tests such as finals and standardized entrance exams. Why do such students “choke under pressure”?

According to current learning theory, anxious thoughts compete for space in the short-term working memory system. If the short-term memory system is concentrating on anxious thoughts, so the theory goes, it can’t focus as well on the information that might be most useful for the test.

If the current learning theory is true, then getting anxious thoughts out of one’s head before the exam might result in improved exam scores. Indeed, in a recent study, students who suffered from test anxiety had better final exam scores in high school biology when they sat down before the exam and wrote their anxious thoughts down, compared to students who didn’t write.

Just 10 minutes of writing was enough to raise the students’ final exam grades from a B- to a B+.

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