Work It Out by Writing It Down

Writing down worries can alleviate test anxiety, boost grades: study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Writing down worries before taking an exam can alleviate test anxiety, according to a University of Chicago study.

Researchers found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved exam scores by one grade point when the students were given 10 minutes to write about what caused their apprehension and anxiety. The exercise allowed students to articulate their feelings on paper, unloading their anxieties in the process.

The writing possibly allowed students to gain some freed-up brainpower that was normally occupied by test anxiety, according to researchers.

Lead study author Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University, said pressure-filled situations diminish brain power (known as working memory), which is located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex serves as a kind of mental scratch pad, but worries and anxiety tend to the occupy working memory, resulting in a loss of optimum brain power.

For the study, researchers recruited 20 college students and administered to them two short math tests, one with the promise of award money for students who performed well. (The award money was introduced to raise stakes and provoke a stressful situation). Half of the students were given 10 minutes to write about their feelings before the test and the other half, the control group, was not afforded 10 minutes to write beforehand.

The anxious students who were allowed to write down their feelings received an average of B+ on the exam, while the control group received an average B grade.

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Review Date: 
February 17, 2011
Last Updated:
February 17, 2011