Anxious Students Gain on Tests by Writing About Fears

Posted by admin on February 24th, 2011 at 10:50pm

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Some students get so nervous before a test, they do poorly even if they know the material. Sian Beilock, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago in Illinois, has studied these highly anxious test-takers.

SIAN BEILOCK: “They start worrying about the consequences. They might even start worrying about whether this exam is going to prevent them from getting into the college they want. And when we worry, it actually uses up attention and memory resources. I talk about it as your cognitive horsepower that you could otherwise be using to focus on the exam.”

Professor Beilock and another researcher, Gerardo Ramirez, have developed a possible solution. Just before an exam, highly anxious test-takers spend ten minutes writing about their worries about the test.

SIAN BEILOCK: “What we think happens is when students put it down on paper, they think about the worst that could happen and they reappraise the situation. They might realize it’s not as bad as they might think it was before and, in essence, it prevents these thoughts from popping up — from ruminating — when they’re actually taking a test.”

The researchers tested the idea on a group of twenty anxious college students. They gave them two short math tests. After the first one, they asked the students to either sit quietly or write about their feelings about the upcoming second test.

The researchers added to the pressure. They told the students that those who did well on the second test would get money. They also told them that their performance would affect other students as part of a team effort.

Professor Beilock says those who sat quietly scored an average of twelve percent worse on the second test. But the students who had written about their fears improved their performance by an average of five percent.

Next, the researchers used younger students in a biology class. They told them before final exams either to write about their feelings or to think about things unrelated to the test.

Professor Beilock says highly anxious students who did the writing got an average grade of B+, compared to a B- for those who did not.

SIAN BEILOCK: “What we showed is that for students who are highly test-anxious, who’d done our writing intervention, all of a sudden there was no relationship between test anxiety and performance. Those students most prone to worry were performing just as well as their classmates who don’t normally get nervous in these testing situations.”

But what if students do not have a chance to write about their fears immediately before an exam or presentation? Professor Beilock says students can try it themselves at home or in the library and still improve their performance.

The researchers wrote about their findings in the journal Science.

And that’s the VOA Special English Education Report. Tell us if this writing intervention works for you. Or tell us how you deal with anxiety before a big event. Share your comments at or on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. You can also find us on YouTube and iTunes at VOA Learning English. I’m Steve Ember.

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  • 1. Hanh.T  |  February 25th, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    When I was a pupil, I never got nervous about the test or exams, but now, when I’ve been a student since 3 years ago, the fears about failure getting bigger and bigger, and I’m more and more unconfident of myself… It’s so stupid, but it’s true. really, really want to I’m not like that ~.~

  • 2. tung  |  February 25th, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Don’t worry about test or exam.Trust myself and you are sucessful!!.Good luck!.

  • 3. chinguyen237  |  February 25th, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I agree with infomation. I usually stress before exam. I don’t know what to do.
    now, i know that. stress can ruduce when we write about everything make you worry.

  • 4. candlelight  |  February 25th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    a little sad ,a little fun while i come in this website .needless to be well or too bad .i wish to get my own within peace .Althought sometime have had a little addiction but i think the same i take to play game.To day i only want to say stuff .thank you all very much .you alway keep calm in any case
    if you try hard certain you will reach the goal you are ordered ,i am thinking i had too much words and dont laugh at me when i used grammar dont be right .Have good to you.bye bye

  • 5. thien thien  |  February 26th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    when i feed worry ,i ussually read comic or eat ice cream.thanks VOA special english

  • 6. small star  |  February 26th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    As a child, I am very confident before the exam but now,as university student, I felt lack of confidence and always fears before the exam. Therefore before the exam,I am worry very much and I often do not sleep, try to learn a lot. Although I know that is not good but I am familiar with this habit- a ruinous habit!

  • 7. hoangoanh  |  February 26th, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    This text is rather useful. In fact most of students often feel very nervous before the exams. They are often worried and wonder as if they could pass the exams. and even some of them usally stay up late to study. Moreover, they feel lazy to eat meals. Because of these facts their health isn’t good. Therefore, their results on the exams aren’t good. According to me, to get good examination students should eat a lot of fruits, beens, and pees. They should also go to bed early. It’s important to take relax for one or two days before the exams. I had been a student for 4 years before I got my job, so these are my experiences. I hope students will have good examinations.

  • 8. ndt27  |  February 27th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    i also felt nervous before oral exam and i think that the more exams we do, the calmer we are

  • 9. Tuan  |  February 27th, 2011 at 9:49 am

    when you very very anxious in test or presentation, a vietnamese professor advised that you should think you lost and will take exam next year, then you will be less anxious and focus on test

  • 10. ndt27  |  February 27th, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    this is quite remarkable researches. Base on these information, we can find methods to help anxious students to overcome their difficulties. The result in each exam is very important because it express what we gain after a long and hard time trying to study. People who plant tree have the right to havert fruits. Thank so much to our scientists.

  • 11. tttt  |  February 27th, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Actually, at anytime before an exam I always feel nervous though I was adult and used to spend many the tests in my life.
    After through my these experiences, my God, that is just a luck or misfortune only. I wrote like that because I have just spent my exam.
    Although I have to learn very hard, but I could not how to keep my calm. There was a pressure in my mind and it made me to worry whether I would pass over it or not.
    Then I have passed my exam, I believe I have done well, partly because of thanks to good luck.

  • 12. tran thi luyen  |  February 28th, 2011 at 12:10 am

    if i had known beforehand i would have passed university entrance an ex.I have solved all problem quickly but when i am in an ex, i am really worry! I tried keep calm but not better…And result i often get bad marks.
    From now, i will write my fears before an ex. I hope i will get better result.
    Thank so much our scientists.

  • 13. cherokee  |  February 28th, 2011 at 8:59 am

    when i was student, i always feel worries about all exam. I try to learning by heart, and nervous when i receive the result. May be i don’t beleive in myselft. I ask myselft why i become as that. And now, when i listen this topic i know what should i do. Writing about our fears is a good way to take our fears out of our mind.

  • 14. huynh nhu  |  February 28th, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    i can not listenclearly all lesson but i can take note main idea.

  • 15. phonglan  |  February 28th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    today is firt day i attent this programe , actually my english is so bad , and i ‘m trying to improve it , and i tink that this lesson is good for me . i hope that i can use english fluently on near day

  • 16. son  |  March 1st, 2011 at 9:30 am

    when i was a student.I used to worry at the exam so before the examination i tried to congratution myself that i had to got 10 marks. if i have done ,I would have bougth an objects that i dreamed.For example laptop, iphone…..and now i have everything that i use to dream.

  • 17. leduy  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 8:46 am

    don’t worry.If you have a best preparation with everything,you will could a best confident.And if you have a best confident,you will do everything successfully. you can control yourself.If you realy worry,you can breathe deep or gossip with your friend or go out to seeing ….let do it thing make you feel comfortable

  • 18. hoatyty  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I used to be always nervous before any examinations when i was a student. But there was an interesting experience that i think it’s like the research in some way.
    It was just five minutes before the beginning of the test. As usual, i was getting so nervous that i shook slightly. Suddenly, the teacher called out my name and said that i hadn’t paid the course fees. it meant i couldn’t be able to take part in the exam. I said i did pay and ran (as fast as possible) through many blocks of apartment to get certification for that issue. Then i was allowed to take the test with less time than everybody else.
    After sixty minute test, i realized that i had done it with amazing time and way – faster and without thingking. Can you imagine that? Really, i had written the answers with not much thought, just reading the questions and writing down on the paper the results. And i went through next tests with the same proublem and in the same way.
    But that was a happy sweating exam. Although i had got to run before each test, I got the best marks for every tests i’had ever had.
    I think running helped me forget the pressures of the tests. i did not pay attention to the results but whether i could join!

  • 19. meou  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 11:02 am

    i’m just nervous in my hard exam. i like this exam so i feel scare about them. it’s strange

  • 20. uttuyen  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    it is the first time i attend this program,i like it so much. my listening is bad,i want to improve this kill.i hope my listening is better in the short time,thank for voa

  • 21. Phuong  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    the report make me remember a story of mine. that was the first time I had a speaking test with foreign teacher. i was very nervous because my listening skill was bad, i couldn’t hear what my teacher said and another special reason is that my teacher is handsome (hihi).
    he asked ” how are you today?”. I answered ” I’m a bit nervous”. so he made me feel better by asking a lot of question about me such as did I have breakfast? and I ate with foods? but in that time I couldn’t hear anything. I only smiled…it was ashamed of me.

  • 22. tttt  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    In these listening reports I just have listened around seventy five percent to major Reader while listening to the extra Reader just thirty percent only. My ability of listening is so bad.
    Write out these things could make to relieve pressure on me and try to hear and speak more.

  • 23. nhung  |  March 5th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    the report too similar with my childhood when i’m a secondary pupil.At that time,i’m always worry before the testing.It’s may be make me can’t eat,or go to bed.I must to go to bed late,do very much exercises, and so on. However,now i very proud of my progress learning.I’m goingnto granduate from my university.

  • 24. Tuan Nguyen  |  March 5th, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    In my experience , I think the best way you should do before the test is…nothing. Of course, one day before test , you have to sure that you could remember something particular ,especialy the main content of the lesson. I mean that, you haven”t to remember every, it”s just main content. After that, may be you can feel more consident of yourself. And thus, relax, keep your mind be quite, freedom. Everrything will be Ok. Why don”t you relax before the test if it make you feel better? The test is only the test, why do you afraid? Because the match? Don”t only think about the good match, bad match , should think about the experience after you passed it=) Good Luck.

  • 25. Tuan Nguyen  |  March 5th, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    May be have a lot mistake in my comment. 4 example every, I mean everything =)). Please reply if u can find it. Thanks a lot.

  • 26. Tuan Nguyen  |  March 7th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Trust yourself =))

  • 27. meo  |  March 7th, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    i always feel stress before the test. writting my anxious about the tests can become a good method to help me reduce worried thought. After that I can do well all my tests. But I think before we do sth we have to have a good preparation for our tests or our presentations. We have to remind ourselves that good preparation will help us get a results as good as we expected.
    Everybody should learn how to control ourselves feeling and believe in ourselves. Self-confidence is the key for open the door’s future

  • 28. leva  |  March 10th, 2011 at 7:16 am

    hello Nguyen,
    I found some mistakes in your quote about ” why do you afraid” correct ” why are you afraid”
    and the match, it mean you can walk some hours with alot of people on the street to welcome a event.
    correct good marks is the scores you achive by studying at school
    sure is adjective not verb so it’s correct ” you have to be sure that you…

  • 29. Tuan Nguyen  |  March 11th, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    thanks for help :)

  • 30. Tuan Nguyen  |  March 11th, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I see that you always are the first person comment. And about ur feeling, Can U tell me, what”s reason make U feel nevous before the test? I”m sure that…probably…may be I can help U:)

  • 31. Hanh.T  |  March 11th, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    well, I’ve found that my comment above has some mistakes ;)) hmm, I rarely comment but my comments are usually one of the first comments… maybe because I check email after dinner everyday ;)) And my feeling… I think its reason partly is that, like other young people, I’m a person have much ambition while my ability is not enough to do :)) children usually think they’re the main focus of the world and the grower they are, the more they find that they’re just a grain of sand. hehe, do things I can and satisfy with my present life, smile is simple, but I can’t do like that,… I’ve typed nonsencical sentences, don’t notice them, plz~.~

  • 32. thao  |  March 12th, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I think that writing your fear down on the paper is very good or you can share with your friend about your fear to take some useful advices from them. there is a very important thing, that is your preparation.if you prepare carefully, you wont feel nervous much. And when you have a good preparation, dont think too much, concentrate on your test, try doing it all in your ability. Taking the test is to check the knowledge that you have studied after a long time. So, always stay calm and be confident to overcome all of tests!!!!!

  • 33. leva  |  March 14th, 2011 at 5:35 am

    Anyone also have the feeling like that but the important is we have to try to pass it, when you don’t fear and you’re confident of doing anything you will do it well. try your best…

  • 34. leva  |  March 14th, 2011 at 5:43 am

    we need to support together to improve our English. this is the first time I know this web,It’s interesting and attractive but I still listening very bad, maybe I must try more.

    How long did you know this page?

  • 35. huong  |  March 20th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    i have just known this page

  • 36. Nao  |  March 24th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    i like listerning english,but listerning english not bad,i hope i listerning very good?

  • 37. thu van  |  April 8th, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    this listening is useful for all student.i’m a student,too.when i do test i feel nervous and anxious although i prepare for test carefully.that is psychological of all student and i hope i will reduce my fear and get more confidence.

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