Using expressive writing to reduce test anxiety

Test anxiety can have negative impacts on pupils’ performance and psychological health. This study published in PLoS One examined whether expressive writing could be beneficial to alleviate test anxiety. Lujun Shen and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial among high school pupils in China who were facing The National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gaokao), which is considered a crucial exam.

The study randomly selected 200 pupils (aged 16-17) from three high schools in Xinxiang city. Pupils were first assessed for eligibility. A sample of 75 pupils was recruited into the study for having a high level of test anxiety. Next, 38 of the pupils were allocated into an expressive writing group, and 37 of them were allocated to a control writing group. Pupils in the expressive writing group were instructed to write for 20 minutes about the positive emotions they had each day, consecutively for 30 days. Pupils in the control writing group were instructed to write about their daily activities consecutively for the same period of time.

Pupils were assessed using the Test Anxiety Scale (TAS) during the recruitment (late April), and after the end of the writing (early June). The study also analysed summaries of the writing manuscripts of the 38 expressive writing group pupils for qualitative data. The findings were as follows:

  • The expressive writing group scored significantly lower than the control writing group in the Test Anxiety Scale post-test.
  • There were no significant gender differences in the post-test TAS scores.
  • Qualitative analysis of the writing found more elements of positive emotion in the last ten days of expressive writing compared to the first ten days among the expressive writing group.

The authors suggest that expressive writing is an easy, inexpensive, and convenient method to cope with anxiety because it does not require a psychological counsellor nor a specific location.

Source: Benefits of expressive writing in reducing test anxiety: A randomized controlled trial in Chinese samples (February 2018), PLoS One, 5(13).

Test anxiety intervention and uncertain control

Increasing a student’s sense of being in control is an important factor in reducing test anxiety, according to a study published in School Psychology Quarterly, which reports the findings of an intervention to reduce test anxiety in secondary school students who are preparing for high-stakes exams.

Fifty-six Year 10 and 11 students from two secondary schools in urban areas of England participated in the study and were randomly allocated to one of two intervention groups: an early intervention group (n=25), or a wait-list control group (n=31). The intervention comprised six sessions which used both cognitive and behavioural approaches, delivered over six weeks (one session per week).

David Putwain and Marc Pescod measured test anxiety (using the Revised Test Anxiety Scale) and uncertain control (using the Motivation and Engagement Scale) for all participants at three time points: a baseline measurement before either group had received the intervention; after the early intervention group had received the intervention; and after the wait-list control had received the intervention.

The results suggest that after receiving the intervention, students showed a moderate reduction in the worry and tension components of test anxiety and uncertain control.

Source: Is reducing uncertain control the key to successful test anxiety intervention for secondary school students? Findings from a randomized control trial, (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly.