FYI: Writing to Better Grades

After some consideration, I have decided to update and rename the “Something Borrowed” feature. I made this decision because I found that the scope of “Something Borrowed” was too narrow. It didn’t include new research or subject-specific help (among other things), and “FYI”, the new feature replacing “Something Borrowed”, is an attempt to remedy that. It will showcase anything I think first year – and even upper year – university students would find helpful, and will run once a week like “Something Borrowed”.
Have a comment, a suggestion, or a resource you would like me to share? Send me an e-mail!


Title: Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom
Author: Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L. Beilock
Type of Resource: Report (Journal article)
Originally Published in: Science, Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 211-213, January 14, 2011


*Note: if your school does not have a subscription to Science, you may not have access to the full article. In that case, please contact me and I will send you a copy of it.*


Two laboratory and two randomized field experiments tested a psychological intervention designed to improve students’ scores on high-stakes exams and to increase our understanding of why pressure-filled exam situations undermine some students’ performance. We expected that sitting for an important exam leads to worries about the situation and its consequences that undermine test performance. We tested whether having students write down their thoughts about an upcoming test could improve test performance. The intervention, a brief expressive writing assignment that occurred immediately before taking an important test, significantly improved students’ exam scores, especially for students habitually anxious about test taking. Simply writing about one’s worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores.


Comments: Yes, there is a LOT of scientific mumbo jumbo in this journal article. However, the take home message is simple: doing 10 minutes of free writing about your exam anxieties could boost exam grades by as much as a letter grade. Although this is statistically true in a lab setting, it may or may not be true when it comes to real exams (does anyone else go to a school where there is barely any room to stand outside of the exam halls, let alone enough space to free write?). Nonetheless, this is an important article because it shows exam performance is NOT only about how intelligent you are and how much stuff you’ve memorized, but also about having the right conditions and mindset. No one else knows what these perfect conditions are except you, and it is crucial for you to take the time to figure them out. It could be always using the “right” pen, engaging in theatre warm ups, or reading Stephen King. Don’t worry about it being weird, do whatever you have to do to get into your “zone” so that you are psyched for those exams and can perform best.


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