Question: Many students suffer anxiety around assessments. Obviously some is useful, but too much can be detrimental. Are there any scientific strategies that can help? I want to guide them with something that is meaningful, rather than anecdotal. Thanks!
You’re right: a middling amount of stress is probably best to fire people up to perform well. Too much is going adversely to affect performance; too little and people are complacent. Students need to stay cool, take five to ten minutes properly to read through the paper and make sure they read the questions thoroughly. In an exam where they are required to write an essay it is wise to plan the structure of their answer before launching into writing. I can’t count the number of times I have marked exam answers where it is clear a student has scanned the question and picked out keywords without properly thinking about what the question is actually asking.
So, I realise this isn’t a scientific answer, but it is a practical one and one that will help students stay calm and perform optimally.
Mindfulness is helpful for anxiety, and some schools are including the mindfulness in their curriculum. I was part of a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry on this which showed impacts on stress around exam time, and we have a big study starting funded by the Wellcome Insitute. Lots of information on this at http://mindfulnessinschools.org/
Including film clips of teachers and young people talking about how it helps with exam stress and anxiety.
Daniel Ansari mentioned a very good paper that jumps to mind when I hear about test anxiety. This is one of the few science based methods to assisting with this issue.
There is also a lot of studies on the benefits of sleep on helping anxiety. Encouraging students to get a good night sleep instead of pulling an ‘all-nighter’ cramming for the test may be useful – as science has shown you actually remember more if you had a proper nights sleep. Here is a nice and short Ted-Ed Talk on the importance of sleep which may be good to show a class a couple days before the exam: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-benefits-of-a-good-night-s-sleep-shai-marcu