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Choking Under Pressure: Why Performance Anxiety Exists and What We Can Do About It.

We’ve all had an experience in life where we were so nervous and afraid to fail that all we could think about was how nervous we were and how badly we expected to fail.  It’s called performance anxiety.  It is defined as fear of a situation or circumstance, like a big presentation at work or a big test at school.  Anything we consider high stakes can cause us to have anxiety.  This anxiety actually impacts our brain’s function and causes us to do worse on a task then we would have if we weren’t so consumed with worry.

This problem is most frustrating when it impacts our children in the classroom.  For students, learning to overcome test anxiety can mean the difference between passing or failing a course. I recently read an article in the Journal Science, which gave me some perspective on how the brain deals with performance anxiety, how it hinders performance and how to help alleviate the stress. I encourage you to try this strategy with your child.  It will decrease your child’s test anxiety and more than likely lower the stress level in your home.

How Does Test Anxiety Impact the Brain?

Test anxiety impacts an area of the brain called working memory.  This is a critical area for thought processing.  When a student has performance anxiety, this area is fully consumed with worries about failing, leaving little working memory to process calculations and questions on a test.  In experiments involving test anxiety, those students who were not given a coping strategy showed a twelve percent drop in their scores in comparison to students who were asked to use a strategy to help alleviate their stress.

What Can You Do?

Researchers have found significant benefit to having students write about their worries just prior to the test.  Students that engaged in this expressive writing strategy for ten minutes before the high stakes test actually performed five percentage points higher than their peers who did not use the writing strategy.

So it appears there is significant benefit for students to be given an opportunity to write about their fears before they take a test.  It will free up their working memory and give them an opening to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained.  Ultimately, this strategy could transform your child’s opinion on a particular area of study, and quite possibly give them the confidence and courage to pursue a career in a high demand field like science or technology.

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posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips,Understanding the Human Brain and have No Comments