The Write Stuff Eases Anxiety

Jot Down Your Fears to Release Yourself From Them

Students can combat test anxiety and post better results by writing about their worries just before taking an exam, according to a recent University of Chicago study published in the journal Science. Those prone to testing jitters improved their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes beforehand to write about what was causing their fears.

Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology and the study’s senior author, is one of the nation’s leading experts on the phenomenon of “choking under pressure,” instances in which talented people perform below their skill level when presented with a particularly challenging experience. She explains that feeling under pressure can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, a sort of mental scratch pad that allows us to retrieve and use information relevant to the task at hand. The writing exercise allowed students to unload their anxieties before taking the test and freed up the needed brainpower to complete it with greater success.

Beilock adds, “We think this type of writing will help people perform their best in a variety of pressure-filled situations, whether it is a big presentation to a client, a speech to an audience or even a job interview.”

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