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A study from the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science” conducted by Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock and her research team revealed that helping lower-income high school freshman to regulate their test-taking anxiety can actually cut their biology course failure rates in half. A brief pre-exam de-stressing session can actually reduce the divide in performance between lower and higher income students.
With high demand in STEM-related jobs, students from low-income families are unprepared for them. Since students in these areas are not required or expected to perform well in these classes, it creates great performance anxiety. All of this begins in high school, where they don’t take as many STEM classes as others, mainly due to the fact that they do not do so well in them.
This study was taken place in a high school in the mid-west where roughly 1,200 freshmen participated. The study required them to participate in emotion-regulating exercises before their biology midterm and final. The ones who were randomly assigned to the “expressive writing” session were asked to spend ten minutes writing about and openly exploring their feelings about the test. In previous research, Beilock has shown that expressing their anxiety through writing can, in fact, reduce their stress about said topic.
“Reappraisal” is another way to improve performance. Those students who were asked to read a passage that explains their psychological arousal is actually a body’s way of preparing for an important task and that the energy can be harnessed for success. After which they summarize what they read and express how they feel about it. This method of “reappraisal” tries to turn their anxiety into excitement by shifting their perspective on the situation at hand.
The third group of students received a mix of both methods. And the final group of students was the control for the research simply telling them to ignore their stress.
The research also asked students at the end of the year to take a moment and summarize and rate their belief in whether emotional arousal during a test can be beneficial to them or not. The results showed that there was an increased belief regarding the potential benefits of stress management. This study has proven that a brief emotional exercise can effectively reduce a students failure rate and be implemented into the school as a whole.