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Writing Exercise May Lessen Performance Anxiety's Effects

Students who addressed their performance anxiety in a writing exercise prior to an exam improved their scores, whereas other students who did not engage in the exercise saw their results drop. Christie Nicholson reports

Performance anxiety can be crippling. Entertainers who suffer from it come up with creative defenses. Bono has his purple shades. The indie rock singer Cat Power faces away from the audience. Others turn to more standard solutions like Xanax.

But there might be a healthier quick fix: writing. Because new research reveals that writing about your specific worries just before a performance can reduce the risk of blowing it due to anxiety. The work appears in the journal Science. [Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock, "Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom"]

Researchers gave 20 students two math tests. The students did nothing special before the first test. But before the second test, students were told they’d receive money for high marks. Half of the students were then instructed to take 10 minutes and write down any concerns they had about the test. The other half sat quietly.

Those who just sat waiting did 12 percent worse on the second test than on the first. But those who wrote about their fears showed a five percent improvement on the exam.

Another part of the research found that writing in general didn’t work—it had to be about test-related concerns to trigger the effect. So to write may prevent some wrongs.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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