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May 1, 2019
Vol. 76
No. 8

Research Alert / Helping Teens Work with Test Anxiety

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    Social-emotional learningEquity
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      Brief emotion-regulation interventions can help some disadvantaged high school students perform better on high-stakes course exams and perhaps improve their overall academic trajectories, according to a new study.
      The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is based on a randomly controlled trial of students taking a freshman biology course at a large, economically diverse high school in the Midwest. Just before their final exams, the students were divided into different groups in which they either a) wrote about their emotions regarding the exam; b) completed an exercise in which they "reappraised" their feelings of stress as beneficial for test taking; or c) participated in a control activity.
      Researchers found that the expressive writing and emotional-reappraisal exercises had a significant impact on the performance of lower-income students (though not, interestingly, on that of higher-income students). Lower-income students who participated in the interventions scored considerably higher on the exams and were far more likely to pass the course than those in the control group.
      This was especially significant since the biology course was a "gateway" course to more advanced STEM study, which is often associated with higher academic and career outcomes.
      The researchers note that, due to status insecurity, students from low-income backgrounds tend to have "particularly high levels of stress and performance anxiety during evaluative assessments in school." The opportunity to "regulate their emotional experience before an examination" can thus be beneficial for them.
      Indeed, the lower-income students who participated in the interventions also reported having more positive attitudes about working with test anxiety in the future. "This finding underscores the potential for emotion-regulation interventions to change students' personal narratives about academic stress," the researchers assert.

      The study, "Reducing Socioeconomic Disparities in the STEM Pipeline Through Student Emotion Regulation," is available online.

      EL’s experienced team of writers and editors produces Educational Leadership magazine, an award-winning publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of K-12 educators and leaders each year. Our work directly supports the mission of ASCD: To empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. 

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