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Expressive Writing Boosts High-Stakes Exam Scores Gerardo Ramirez Sian L. Beilock Human Performance Lab Department of Psychology University of Chicago.

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Presentation on theme: "Expressive Writing Boosts High-Stakes Exam Scores Gerardo Ramirez Sian L. Beilock Human Performance Lab Department of Psychology University of Chicago."— Presentation transcript:

1 Expressive Writing Boosts High-Stakes Exam Scores Gerardo Ramirez Sian L. Beilock Human Performance Lab Department of Psychology University of Chicago 2012 LearnLab Summer Workshop

2 Making the Grade in the Midst of Stress Performing at one’s best during academic examinations can have significant pay-offs But many testing situations create a high degree of anxiety and lead students to Choke*

3 A Distraction Account –Anxiety can create verbal worries which disrupts working memory processes 22 x 43 = Why do students choke? –Working memory involved in the control and regulation of information that is currently being manipulated

4 A Pervasive Problem –Distraction account central in understanding High Pressure tests High Test Anxiety High Math Anxiety Stereotype Threat –Efforts to reduce the impact of anxiety: Focus attention on positive self identities/goals Distract attention away from worries Misattribute anxiety to a unrelated stimuli Advantages to avoid thinking about worries (Ambady et al., 2004; DeCaro, Rotar, Kendra & Beilock, 2010; Ben-Zeev, Fein, & Inzligcht, 2005)

5 Focusing attention on negative information – through expressive writing – can actually reduce the impact of negative worries Expressive writing is a clinical technique that promotes –Reduced ruminations and anxiety among incoming freshmen –Higher working memory availability Research Question: Can a single bout expressive writing serve as a robust intervention for helping students deal with a salient form of anxiety An Alternative Approach ( Klein & Boals, 2001; Pennebaker & Beall,1986)

6 Expressive writing will afford students the opportunity to off-load their performance worries in a manner that encourages insight about the event (Study 1) These benefits should be particularly apparent among: Individuals who are most prone to worry during examinations (Study 2 & 3) And those who bring long held anxieties to the table (Study 4) Hypothesis

7 Procedure: Pressure Instructions Post Test 40 Math Prob. Writing Pre Test 40 Math Prob. Our Primary DV was accuracy Low Pressure High Pressure Study 1 Methods

8 Results for Study 1 “I don’t want to spend all this time thinking about the coming up subtraction problems because that thinking will make me more and more nervous. I am doubtful that I could improve.” What drives our effects? Worry sentences Worry + Insight sentences

9 Summary of Study 1 Expressive writing  offloading of worries  gain of insight about negative test concerns An aid to students when it matters it matters the most Can it aid those who are most prone to worry?

10 Test Anxious Students: Characterized by persistent worrying during testing situations. Two randomized field experiments in high school Biology classrooms Same intervention (1 year part) School Studies (2 and 3)

11 Procedure across the semester: Expressive Writing Manipulation Test Anxiety Measure Obtained Scores Teachers were blind to our manipulation Final Exam 30 Day ….…15 Days... 3 days Method Study 3 and 4

12 Results for Study 2 and 3 All P values > 0.60[t(52)=2.08, p<.05][All P values >.58]

13 Association between Test Anxiety and Final Exam Performance Results for Study 2 and 3 [r(56)=-.51, p<.001][r(50)=-.14, p=.33] [Z(two-tailed) = –2.09, P < 0.04]

14 Expressive writing allows test anxious students the ability to demonstrate their true competency The benefits of expressive writing are especially apparent for students who are habitually anxious about taking tests Study 4 We lastly asked whether the benefits of expressive writing would extend to math anxious students Summary for Study 2 and 3

15 Study 5: Math Anxiety (Park, Ramirez & Beilock, in Prep) Study 4: Math Anxiety Results High Math Anxiety Low Math Anxiety

16 Study 5: Math Anxiety General Discussion Expressive writing helps reduce the burden of anxiety brought on by high stakes testing situations as well as more stable forms of anxiety (e.g., test and math anxiety) Expressive writing may help students gain insight into the source of stress and afford them the ability to reexamine their stressful experience

17 Study 5: Math Anxiety General Discussion Part of what characterizes academic success under anxiety is the uncoupling of regions associated with the processing of anxiety from those associated with WM activity Expressive writing via insight may be facilitating this uncoupling** (Mattarella-Micke & Beilock, in prep)

18 Study 5: Math Anxiety Conclusion Simple psych interventions can be the very effective in bringing out the true competency of anxious students Important to give students both the: Knowledge to succeed on examinations Tools to be able to express that knowledge when it matters most.

19 For more info see: Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S. L. (2011). Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom. Science, 331, Acknowledgements: – Adviser: Sian Beilock – Colleague: Daeun Park – Institute of Educational Sciences – National Science Foundation Thank you

20 Study 1 Data

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