153 Coping with Pressure

Based on research by Ramirez, Geraldo, and Beilock, Sian L. (2011), written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

Do you get nervous before an exam or presentation?

Feeling stressed before an important event can negatively affect performance.  Psychologist Gerado Ramirez and a co-author designed an intervention to improve scores on high-pressure exams.  They believed that writing about one’s worries before an exam allows a re- evaluation of the situation, thus reduces worries and boosts scores. To test this theory, they divided participants into two groups. After a math pre-test showing their typical performance, researchers created a stressful environment by video taping, rating them, and giving monetary incentives. Additionally, high-level performance depended on a partner’s scores.  Participants were told their partner already completed the exam and performed highly.  Thus, it was entirely up to them to win the reward. Before the test, one group wrote for 10 minutes about their thoughts and feelings regarding the exam, while the other group sat quietly.  Math performance on the pre-test was the same for both groups.  However, the group that engaged in the writing activity before the high-pressure exam performed significantly better than the other group.

If you’re nervous before an exam or presentation, take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and feelings. This might improve your performance!


Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S. L. (2011). Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. science, 331(6014), 211-213.

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