Writing away exam worries
â€Chokingâ€ is a well recognised phenomena in the sporting field but it can happen in other areas of life too. Essentially, choking is doing less well than you are capable of doing when you need to perform because you are anxious. Spectacular and graphic examples of this are played out on the sporting field but choking also happens for students sitting exams or for people giving presentations in business. The good news is that a remedy for choking seems to have been found.
The research was done at the University of Chicago and began by asking students to sit two short maths tests. In the first test the students were simply given the test and asked to do their best. In the second test however, the researchers created anxiety in the participants by saying that the people who did well would receive money and that other participants were depending on their performance as part of a team. Half of the students were told to write about their feelings about the upcoming test for ten minutes prior to testing while the other half were told to sit quietly for ten minutes before the test.
The results were impressive and showed that writing helped. Comparing the results of the first test to the second those who just sat quietly did indeed choke due to the stress placed on them in the second situation; the on average experienced a twelve per cent drop in their maths accuracy. By contrast, those who had written about their feelings of anxiety actually did an average of five per cent better. My maths tells me there was a seventeen per cent swing just due to writing about feelings of anxiety.
To make sure that it wasnâ€™t simply the acct of that writing that helped, the researchers conducted a second experiment which showed that it was not just general writing but specifically writing about feelings regarding the upcoming test that helped. In one experiment they found that highly anxious students who wrote about their pre-test feelings received average grades of B+ compared to average grades of B- among those anxious students who did not write.
What is happening here involves the relationship between memory and anxiety. We know that pressure filled situations can deplete â€œworking memoryâ€. This working memory is based in the prefrontal cortex and allows you to work with relevant information to the task in front of you. However, when worries occupy your thoughts your working memory becomes overburdened and you lose the brain power necessary to complete the task to your best: in other words, you choke. The writing exercise allows you to unload your anxieties before the test thus freeing up working memory space for the task.
Whatever your field of endeavour, when you need to perform writing about your worries beforehand will free your mind so that you can be at your best.