and the tests that accompany them can be stressful. If there was a quick,
ethical way of increasing your test scores while reducing anxiety would you
take it? – You should do!
test anxiety, its impact on test performance, and strategies for intervention
that were published in Science, 2011 offer some valuable tools for boosting
performance. It turns out there is a 10 minute
exercise that has been found to significantly boost performance. Here is an
excerpt from the research paper:
laboratory and two randomized field experiments tested a writing intervention exercise
designed to improve students’ scores on high stakes exams… The intervention, a
brief expressive writing assignment that occurred immediately before taking an
important test, significantly improved student exam scores, especially for
students habitually anxious about test taking. Simply writing about one’s
worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores”. So, especially if
you get nervous about important exams, this is a great tool for improving
the Science paper: “Studies have shown
that when students feel an anxious desire to perform at a high level they worry
about the situation and its consequences. These worries compete for Working
Memory (WM) available for performance. WM is a short term memory system
involved in the control and regulation of a limited amount of information
immediately relevant to the task at hand. If the ability of WM to maintain task
focus is disrupted because of situation-related worries, performance can
suffer. Writing may alleviate the burden that worry places on WM therefore
This is a
somewhat counterintuitive idea given that drawing attention to negative
information typically makes it more rather than less salient in memory. However
in the experiments, ninth grade students were randomly assigned to an
expressive writing or control condition immediately before the final exam of
their high school career. Students spent 10 minutes either sitting quietly
(control group) or engaged in expressive writing. The expressive writing group
were asked to write as openly as possible about their thoughts and feelings
regarding the exam they were about to perform.
participants choked under the increased pressure, scoring on average 12% lower than earlier test
scores; whereas students who expressed their thoughts before the high pressure
exam showed a significant 5% improvement on their pre-test scores.
This is a great
improvement, from -12% to +5% under stressful conditions. The researches
wondered if writing, regardless of content, distracted students’ attention from
the situation and thus benefited performance. So they did another experiment
where one group was asked to write about anything they liked and the other
group did the same expressive writing about the consequences of the exam. In
this experiment the unrelated writing group showed a 7% drop in performance
from pre test to final test, whereas the expressive writing group showed a 4%
increase in performance this time.
So, it is
not just writing that does the trick, making a shopping list or drafting your
project’s next status report is not going to help you. You have to actually
think and write openly about the exam. How do you feel about it? What would
happen if you fail? Who would you need to tell? How would people react at work?
All the gritty stuff we may be telling ourselves not to think about, that’s
exactly what we should be writing about to free up as much working memory as
Working Memory capacity is key for answering questions and is eroded by
anxiety. Exercises like 10 minutes of expressive writing could be very useful
tools for improving performance. Facing your fears and documenting them will
unload them from Working Memory giving you more to solve
Test are bad
enough, but if you are one of the 40% of people that suffer from test anxiety,
that panic of “Argg, I have forgotten it all!”
this 10 minute exercise could be just the ticket. You should be arriving at the
test center in plenty of time anyway, just in case there is traffic or delays.
So use that wait time effectively to your advantage.
article first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here. Bio: Mike
Griffiths is the author of “PMI-ACP Exam Prep, Premier Edition: A Course in a
Book for Passing the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Exam” and
enjoys helping people understand and pass project management certifications.