Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom

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Science  14 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6014, pp. 211-213
DOI: 10.1126/science.1199427

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Write Your Worries Away

Tests and exams are stressful for many people. Students who “choke” at an exam may perform less well than their knowledge base warrants. Such results can accumulate to generate reduced educational achievements and expectations. Studying young adults performing math tests, Ramirez and Beilock (p. 211) found that a brief intervention—writing about their anxiety about the upcoming exam—helped students to do better in the exam. Perhaps by acknowledging their fears, students were able to tame distracting emotions.


Two laboratory and two randomized field experiments tested a psychological intervention designed to improve students’ scores on high-stakes exams and to increase our understanding of why pressure-filled exam situations undermine some students’ performance. We expected that sitting for an important exam leads to worries about the situation and its consequences that undermine test performance. We tested whether having students write down their thoughts about an upcoming test could improve test performance. The intervention, a brief expressive writing assignment that occurred immediately before taking an important test, significantly improved students’ 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.

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