Writing reduces test anxiety

By Sheryl Kay • Published: April 4th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Exam time, and the butterflies are fluttering. The moments just before a test is handed out can seem like they drag on for hours when you’re nervous.

But take a deep breath, and sharpen your pencil.

Those who write to express their feelings may be in for a bigger payback. Research now shows that when faced with anxiety-provoking situations, writing about one’s feelings beforehand can actually improve performance.

Appearing in the journal Science, the study, based on research supported by the National Science Foundation, looked at how expressive writing might be a useful method for students facing test anxiety.

The first part of the investigation involved college students who were given two math tests. At the start of the first exam the students were simply told to do their best. But before the second exam, students were given several stress-producing prompts. For example, they were told that those who performed better would receive monetary compensation, and that all students would be filmed while testing. In addition, prior to the second exam the students were broken into two groups. The first was told to write about their feelings on the upcoming test for ten minutes, while the second was instructed to sit quietly for ten minutes.

When the researchers graded the tests, they found that the scores of those who did no writing before the second stress-producing exam dropped twelve percent from the first test, while those who did write saw their scores improve by five percent.

The researchers then used a similar testing scenario for high schoolers and found comparable results. They concluded by suggesting that even if teachers don’t have an extra ten minutes before each test, students can still benefit from writing about their feelings on test anxiety at any point in the day, even at home.