Free Writing to Combat Test Anxiety

By Evelyn Gardett

According to a study in Science Magazine, free writing about your feelings prior to an exam can help prevent test anxiety.  Two groups were tested: one was asked to write about academics, the other about their feelings of anxiety.  The group who confronted their anxiety head-on by writing about it performed better!

Free writing has long been a widely accepted way of dealing with a range of emotions.  What is so interesting in this study is that it shows that acknowledging and bringing these ideas to the surface right before a test does not make the feelings worse, but better.  It’s a similar concept to listening to rock music or running a marathon to deal with stress.  Actively taking on the stress of life – but on your own terms – gives you ownership of the stress, and actually decreases its hold over you.

The “free” nature of the writing is also pivotal.  Free time is essential for academic success in students of all ages.  It RE-creates the mind, and liberates creative thought.  For me, free unstructured time spent reading for fun, watching movies, or listening to music helps me make connections among elements of my life that I previously saw an unrelated.  It’s the mental equivalent of taking a look around your tool shed and realizing that you already have all the materials you need to complete a project.

Granting ourselves free time is difficult – especially in that moment before a test when prudence would seem to dictate last-minute cramming.  We are so beset with obligations, wanting to get the most out of every minute.  Even typically restful activities, such as sports, the arts, and social functions, can don the livery of achievement.  Find something to do that will not bring you any material gain, something that you would not put on your resume, and pursue it for its own good.  Here are some ideas.

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One thought on “Free Writing to Combat Test Anxiety

  1. Excellent post! A lot of work has been done on the value of associative free thinking time and techniques, but there remains a real challenge to recognizing it on an institutional level or (probably more challenging) incorporating it in one’s own daily routine.

    At my company, our senior management is committed to stress management and I’ve recently completed an MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Relief) course sponsored by the firm. It has been completely transformative for me, and requires astonishingly little in terms of time once the initial commitment is made.

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