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Anxiety and test-taking
January 14, 2011 8:38 AM   Subscribe

A study just published in Science finds that students who briefly write about their testing anxieties do better on the subsequent test. The abstract at Science, and a podcast interview with Sian Beilock, one of the study authors.
posted by OmieWise (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
This finding, which has gotten verified repeatedly, is really extraordinary stuff. See also stereotype threat, which can be mostly overcome through some really easy self-affirmation exercises before an exam.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:46 AM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


And if I write about how anxious I am writing about my writing anxiety will that help me write a better writing anxiety paper?
posted by dgaicun at 8:48 AM on January 14, 2011


Ach. If only this was known when I was bombing out of engineering in 1979.

Also would have helped if the Internets had been put up then too.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:49 AM on January 14, 2011


And if I write about how anxious I am writing about my writing anxiety will that help me write a better writing anxiety paper?

I think that's called primary research.
posted by zennie at 8:58 AM on January 14, 2011


This is really interesting. I'm going to try this before my next job interview.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:00 AM on January 14, 2011


The podcast is pretty good, worth a listen. It contains a bit more information than is in the LA Times article. I forgot to time it, but I think it was under 10 minutes. In particular, Beilock talks at the end about why they think this is distinct from a finding based on expectation (placebo).
posted by OmieWise at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Relatedly, there was a lovely piece of work published recently showing that getting female physics students to write an essay about inspirational female figures reduces the gender gap in subsequent exams. A very neat demonstration that at least a chunk of the gender gap is due to implicit attitudes (if not overt sexism) rather than having a biological base, and of an easy way to take steps toward overcoming its effects.
posted by metaBugs at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm actually considering attempting this with my students this semester. I am very curious to see if it works. I already include little jokes on the exam sheets to get them to relax, and make them take a 3 minute break during the middle of the exam time to get up and stretch. Both seem to really help them relax.
posted by strixus at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2011


I just made ten copies of that article to hand out to students who ask me what to do about test-taking anxiety. I'll be really interested to see what they report back!
posted by craichead at 10:19 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, complaining to my friends on-line is why I haven't failed too many of my engineering tests? Interesting.
posted by rubah at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2011


If a professor made me break my train of thought on a problem to take a 3-minute "stress break" I'd be so irritated that it would gall me for the rest of the test. Don't talk to me while I'm in the zone. :-(
posted by Scientist at 3:48 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


makes sense. Most talking therapy works this way. It always sounds silly beforehand, but externalizing one's frustration and anxiety really does make a HUGE difference. Not that this would help people who don't study or anything, just those who have test anxiety.
posted by es_de_bah at 3:51 PM on January 14, 2011


yes, es_de_bah. If you vocalize - or write down, perhaps even better - your fears, it is much better than letting them fester inside and keep you in a state of fear during the exam.

As much as I hate to admit this to my fellow cynical MeFi brothers and sisters, I participated in a firewalk about 25 years ago. After the bonfire, we spent a few hours SPECIFYING our fears about the upcoming coal walk. The idea was the same: if you recognize your fears, in their specifics, you feel more relieved about them than you do by leaving them to cripple your performance by lurking in the unconscious.

The other part of the seminar was to inculcate the idea of celebrating crossing the coals before taking the step: visualizing success.

Even then, I pretty much realized it was a physical phenomenon: the ashes on the coals acting as insulation in the quick walk across the hot coals, but, still, I think that writing or talking about your fears is pretty much a common sense way of lessening the deleterious effects of underlying fear.
posted by kozad at 8:49 PM on January 14, 2011


Playing a couple of levels of Doom always did wonders for my pre-test jitters.
posted by vanlal at 9:15 PM on January 14, 2011


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