This afternoon, my students took the world's first-ever AP World History: Modern assessment, and they did so from their cars and homes and wherever else they've figured out how to get Wifi. Needless to say, there is plenty that they're bound to be anxious about.
Thankfully, the research evidence on test anxiety is that even though it is certainly a thing, it's not an unchangeable one. Below is the video I sent my students this morning to guide them through an exercise that researchers from the University of Chicago and UCLA have found effective in reducing performance-hindering anxiety prior to assessments:
It turns out that writing about one's test-related anxiety just prior to the assessment improves performance (here's one study for the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and here's another for Science; I first learned of these in this article by Sian Beilock and Dan Willingham).
There are probably two things happening in an intervention like this:
- Writing it down externalizes the tangled loop of worried thoughts that plague us when we're feeling anxious, and this externalization somehow frees up our working memory to focus on the task itself.
- The prompt encourages the student writer to connect this bout of performance anxiety with prior instances, and that may lend the kind of big picture perspective that serves as a balm in anxious situations.
At any rate, I hope this gives you a tool to share with students the next time you hear or see test anxiety in your midst.
Related post: here's another trick for helping with performance anxiety.