Exam Anxiety: Here’s How to Shake It (And Put In A Stellar Performance)

Exam Anxiety: Here's a Way to Shake It (And Put in a Stellar Performance)

The world can tend to feel a bit different at exam time, thanks to stress, exhaustion and way too many not so healthy (but so delicious) study snacks. And then there’s anxiety, hanging on a little too tightly. If only during the exam it would take itself quietly off to, you know, somewhere else, there would be no problem, but it doesn’t tend to work like that.

When it’s there it feels awful and can affect performance. You have enough to worry about at exam time so anything that can turn down the dial on exam anxiety has to be a good thing, right? Well here you go …

Researchers have found that a simple writing exercise can ease exam anxiety and greatly improve exam performance.

In a recent study, college students were given the opportunity to unload their test anxiety by writing about their exam worries for ten minutes before an exam. The idea was that by doing this, the valuable mental resources that were being taken up by worrying were freed up and made available to work on the exam.

According to associate professor of psychology Sian Beilock who co-authored the study, stressful situations take up working memory – the part of the brain that powers the retrieval and use of information. We only have a limited amount of memory, so the more that’s used up by worrying, the less there is available to nail the exam.

 Beilock is an expert on ‘choking under pressure’, a phenomenon that sees really capable people falling apart at the point of performance, not just in an exam room but also on the sports field, a high-stakes business meeting, an interview or anywhere there’s high pressure.

The Study: What they did.

 As part of the study, college students were given two maths tests. In the first one there was no pressure – students were told just to do their best.

The second one though! Just before the exam, researchers told students that the ones who did well would receive money and that other people in the team were depending on their success. On top of this, they were told that they would be recorded and reviewed by other teachers. Stressed yet?

Half the students were given ten minutes to write about how they were feeling about the test. The other half were told to just sit quietly.

What they found:

The students who wrote about their worries showed a 5% improvement in accuracy between the first maths test (given before the writing) and the second maths test (given after the writing). The group of students who didn’t write showed a 12% drop in accuracy between the two tests.

All up, that’s a 17% difference in performance between the people who wrote and the people who didn’t.

The results were replicated in a subsequent study with 9th grade biology students. Before an important finals exam, students were instructed to either write about how they felt about the test or to think about topics that weren’t related to the test.

Those who didn’t write had higher anxiety and performed worse than those who had, even when the student’s ability was taken into account. The writing task seemed to level the effect of anxiety – those in the writing group who had high exam anxiety performed just as well as though who weren’t as anxious. Out of the high anxiety students, those who wrote before the test averaged a B+ whereas the non-writers averaged a B-.

And finally …

The effect seems to be brought about writing specifically about thoughts and feelings related to the test, not just by writing in general.

Writing about your worries in relation to the task at hand is likely to be something that will help performance in all types of challenging situations – speeches, presentations, interviews, sports – not just exams. That’s good news for everyone – the world could always do with more brilliance. Exams measure ability and talent at a single moment in time and the reading of true potential can be skewed if anxiety steps in. Anything that can let potential shine through regardless of confidence or the tendency to be anxious is a good thing.

Pen, paper, now go be awesome.

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For our children, we start building the foundations for adolescence in their earliest years - the relationship we’ll have with them, who they are going to be, how they are going to be. One of the things we’ll want to build is their capacity to know their own minds and be brave enough to use it. This isn’t easy, even for adults, so the more practice we give them, the more they’ll be able to access their strong, brave, beautiful minds when they need to - when we aren’t there.

This means letting them have a say when we can, asking their opinions, and letting them disagree.

When kids and teens argue, they’re communicating. We need to listen, but the need won’t always be obvious. When littles argue because it’s spaghetti for dinner and ‘I hate spaghetti so much’ (even though last week and the 5 years before last week, spaghetti was their favourite), they might be expressing a need for sleep, power and influence, or independence. All are valid. When your teen argues because they want to do something you’ve said no to, the need might be to preserve their felt sense of inclusion with their tribe, or independence from you. Again, all valid. 

Of course, a valid need doesn’t mean it will always be met. Sometimes our needs might need to take priority to theirs, such as our need to keep them safe, or for them to learn that they can still be okay if everything doesn’t go their way, or that sometimes people will have conflicting needs that need to take priority. What’s important is letting them know we hear them and we get it.

It’s going to take time for kids to learn how to argue and express themselves respectfully. In the meantime, the words might be clumsy, loud, angry. This is when we need to hold on to ourselves, meet them where they are, let them know we hear them, and step into our leadership presence. We might give them what they need because it makes sense and because there isn’t enough reason not to. Sometimes, after giving them space to be heard we’ll need to stand our ground. Other times we might solve the problem collaboratively: This is what you want. This is what I want. Let’s talk about how we can we both get what we need.♥️
Anxiety will always tilt our focus to the risks, often at the expense of the very real rewards. It does this to keep us safe. We’re more likely to run into trouble if we miss the potential risks than if we miss the potential gains. 

This means that anxiety will swell just as much in reaction to a real life-threat, as it will to the things that might cause heartache (feels awful, but not life-threatening), but which will more likely come with great rewards. Wholehearted living means actively shifting our awareness to what we have to gain by taking a safe risk. 

Sometimes staying safe will be the exactly right thing to do, but sometimes we need to fight for that important or meaningful thing by hushing the noise of anxiety and moving bravely forward. 

When children or teens are on the edge of brave, but anxiety is pushing them back, ask, ‘But what would it be like if you could?’ ♥️

#parenting #parent #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #positiveparenting #heywarrior #heyawesome
Except I don’t do hungry me or tired me or intolerant me, as, you know … intolerably. Most of the time. Sometimes.
Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’

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