For many students, the biggest obstacle to pass a test isn’t what they don’t know or haven’t studied, but the anxiety they feel before answering the exams. Stress and anxiety could inflict chaos on a student’s ability to concentrate on tests or exams, which leads up to poor performance and ultimately fewer opportunities to succeed in school.
Upcoming studies have shown that stress and anxiety could be treated as boons instead of burden. A simple writing exercise given just before exams, helped students to see stress as a beneficial and energizing force that could help them.
Psychologists Christopher Rozek, Gerardo Ramirez, Rachel Fine, and Sian Beilock followed 1,175 high school students for a year to study how stress affected their capability to pass major exams. They noticed that low-income students were excessively harmed by difficulty regulating test anxiety. These students felt “worried thoughts about the possibility of failure” that became a self-fulfilling prediction: Being stressed about failing increased the likelihood of their failure. But 10-minute writing exercises that encouraged students to let go of their negative thoughts, regulate their emotions, and reinterpret stress as a positive force helped them perform better.
Two types of writings were assigned in the study which was to be written by the students immediately before the end of semester exams were taken:
- Expressive writing. Students were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about the exam they were about to take. They were also asked to write about other times in their lives when they had experienced worried thoughts.
- Stress reassessment. Students were asked to think about their indicators of stress as helpful for test-taking. For example: If they find themselves feeling nervous or anxious while taking a test, they had to think about how their body’s responses could actually energize and help them. Students also read a passage that explained how psychological responses to stress—a faster heartbeat and heavy breathing, for example—help improve performance by increasing oxygen flow into the brain, boosting alertness and increasing focus.
Both the exercises were considered effective at boosting the performances of students, especially that of low-income students. The studies showed an evident growth, the achievement gap between low and high income students decreased by 29% and the course failure rate for low income students were down to half. These results made the intervention quite valuable tool for boosting the performances.
Stress could be beneficial, but to a certain degree
Stress isn’t always bad, the pounding heartbeat is just preparing us for the action. Even if we are breathing faster, its not a problem at all, as we are supplying our brains with more oxygen. Sometimes it also helps us to perform our best moves if are a bit stressed. But, definitely having chronic stress could possibly cause serious health problems.
Suppose, a kid is taking part in online art competitions for kids, the stress before the participation would allow and channelize him to perform better than he could have usually done.
Transforming the stress
In the classroom, test anxiety could be insidious and affects the ability of students to perform at their full potential. But teachers can take a few steps to help students beat test anxiety:
Step 1: Recognize that exams measure more than just academic abilities. They also measure how much test anxiety a student suffers from.
Step 2: Reframe stress. It’s not a burden but a way of energizing the body. Consider how top performers, from athletes to musicians, deal with stress. NBA champion Kobe Bryant has said that, everything negative—pressure, challenges—is all an opportunity for him to rise.
Step 3: Before a major test, teachers could give students a short break to flush out negative thoughts. Writing exercises are effective, as the recent study shows, but so are brain breaks, mindfulness exercises, and movement breaks.
Often, students think to themselves, “This test is too hard, and I’ll probably fail.” But teachers can step in and encourage a positive mindset toward stress, instead leading students to think, “This test is really challenging, so I need to do my best.” This rephrasing would energize the kids and they would likely perform better in their upcoming ventures.