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Implementing an Expressive Writing Intervention for Test Anxiety in a Large College Course

    Authors: Jennifer H. Doherty1,‡,*, Mary Pat Wenderoth1,‡
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Received 13 February 2017 Accepted 12 April 2017 Published 11 August 2017
    • ©2017 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    • [open-access] This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ and https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode), which grants the public the nonexclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the published work.

    • Supplemental materials available at http://asmscience.org/jmbe
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: UW Biology, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195-1800. Phone: 206-616-4029. Fax: 206-685-1728. E-mail: [email protected].
    • These authors contributed equally to the manuscript.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. August 2017 vol. 18 no. 2 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v18i2.1307
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    Abstract:

    Test anxiety is a widespread problem that negatively impacts student performance. The mechanism proposed to explain the deleterious effect is that anxious thoughts occupy space in working memory, thus diminishing cognitive capacity. Expressive writing is an intervention shown to decrease the impact of test anxiety. For this intervention, students respond to a prompt directing them to write-down their thoughts and feelings regarding the upcoming exam. To investigate the feasibility of using this intervention in college courses and to discern our students’ thoughts about taking exams, we implemented the intervention in our large introductory biology course. The prompt was placed on the cover page of each exam and students were given five minutes to write. Students were then instructed to rip off, crumple up, and throw the page into the closest aisle and begin the exam. Even though they could not start the exam early, students only spent approximately two minutes writing. Clean up of papers was reasonably accomplished during the exam. Interestingly, crumpling and throwing papers seemed to dissipate tension and created a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom evidenced by laughing and paper airplanes. We assigned the anonymous student writing into categories (e.g., doodling, pep talks, course content, anxious) as we were interested to see the variation in student responses and monitor if student feelings changed over time. We suggest instructors consider using this intervention to decrease the impact of test anxiety. We found the implementation logistics manageable and reading students’ thoughts made us more empathetic with our students’ experiences.

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References & Citations

1. Hill KT, Wigfield A 1984 Test anxiety: a major educational problem and what can be done about it Elem Sch J 85 105 126 10.1086/461395 http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/461395
2. Zeidner M 1998 Test anxiety: the state of the art Springer Science & Business Media New York, NY
3. Devine A, Fawcett K, Szűcs D, Dowker A 2012 Gender differences in mathematics anxiety and the relation to mathematics performance while controlling for test anxiety Behav Brain Funct 8 33 10.1186/1744-9081-8-33 22769743 3414752 http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1744-9081-8-33
4. Ganley CM, Vasilyeva M 2014 The role of anxiety and working memory in gender differences in mathematics J Educ Psychol 106 105 120 10.1037/a0034099 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0034099
5. Chapell MS, Blanding ZB, Silverstein ME, Takahashi M, Newman B, Gubi A, McCann N 2005 Test anxiety and academic performance in undergraduate and graduate students J Educ Psychol 97 268 274 10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.268 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.268
6. Cassady JC, Johnson RE 2002 Cognitive test anxiety and academic performance Contemp Educ Psychol 27 270 295 10.1006/ceps.2001.1094 http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/ceps.2001.1094
7. Moran TP 2016 Anxiety and working memory capacity: a meta-analysis and narrative review Psychol Bull 142 831 864 10.1037/bul0000051 26963369 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000051
8. Ramirez G, Beilock SL 2011 Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom Science 331 211 213 10.1126/science.1199427 21233387 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1199427
9. Jamieson JP, Peters BJ, Greenwood EJ, Altose AJ 2016 Reappraising stress arousal improves performance and reduces evaluation anxiety in classroom exam situations Soc Psychol Personal Sci 1948550616644656 10.1177/1948550616644656 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1948550616644656
10. Damer DE, Melendres LT 2011 “Tackling Test Anxiety”: a group for college students J Spec Group Work 36 163 177 10.1080/01933922.2011.586016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01933922.2011.586016
11. Brunyé TT, Mahoney CR, Giles GE, Rapp DN, Taylor HA, Kanarek RB 2013 Learning to relax: evaluating four brief interventions for overcoming the negative emotions accompanying math anxiety Learn Individ Differ 27 1 7 10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.008 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2013.06.008
12. Briñol P, Gascó M, Petty RE, Horcajo J 2013 Treating thoughts as material objects can increase or decrease their impact on evaluation Psychol Sci 24 41 47 10.1177/0956797612449176 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797612449176

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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v18i2.1307
2017-08-11
2019-06-26

Abstract:

Test anxiety is a widespread problem that negatively impacts student performance. The mechanism proposed to explain the deleterious effect is that anxious thoughts occupy space in working memory, thus diminishing cognitive capacity. Expressive writing is an intervention shown to decrease the impact of test anxiety. For this intervention, students respond to a prompt directing them to write-down their thoughts and feelings regarding the upcoming exam. To investigate the feasibility of using this intervention in college courses and to discern our students’ thoughts about taking exams, we implemented the intervention in our large introductory biology course. The prompt was placed on the cover page of each exam and students were given five minutes to write. Students were then instructed to rip off, crumple up, and throw the page into the closest aisle and begin the exam. Even though they could not start the exam early, students only spent approximately two minutes writing. Clean up of papers was reasonably accomplished during the exam. Interestingly, crumpling and throwing papers seemed to dissipate tension and created a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom evidenced by laughing and paper airplanes. We assigned the anonymous student writing into categories (e.g., doodling, pep talks, course content, anxious) as we were interested to see the variation in student responses and monitor if student feelings changed over time. We suggest instructors consider using this intervention to decrease the impact of test anxiety. We found the implementation logistics manageable and reading students’ thoughts made us more empathetic with our students’ experiences.

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