Researchers from Universities in the Netherlands and Australia have just published an interesting paper reporting on a series of experiments they conducted on school children taking exams.
One of the big problems that anxiety causes during exams is that it degrades performance significantly. In particular it it uses up valuable processing power in the brain, particularly in the areas used for working memory, which is a vital component especially during tests. We use the working memory to store short term information whilst we are working things out during an exam.
The researchers tested the hypothesis that if the students simply read through all of the questions before starting to answer anything, this would in effect reduce some of the anticipatory anxiety and as a consequence lower the loading on the working memory. The result of this should be more 'space' for problem solving and therefore better results.
The researchers showed the method of reading through all of the questions before putting pen to paper to 50% of a group of 117 students, chosen at random before a real exam. Those students that did read through the exam paper first performed significantly better than those that didn't. Additionally the students who carried out the tactic reported lower levels of anxiety during the exam compared to those that didn't.
Interestingly this tactic worked regardless of the level of anxiety the student was experiencing before the exam.
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Mavilidi, M., & Hoogerheide, V (2014) A Quick and Easy Strategy to Reduce Test Anxiety and Enhance Test Performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 1099-0720 August 2014 DOI: 10.1002/acp.3058