Nervous about exams? Take deep breaths

Nervous about exams? Take deep breaths

Tuesday, 09 July 2013

Media Type
TODAY (Pages 22 and 23)

SINGAPORE — Deep breathing exercises may help to reduce feelings of anxiety and improve mathematics performance in students who may feel nervous during test-like situations, according to a recent National Institute of Education (NIE) study.

Students who generally exhibited high levels of anxiety but were taught and practised deep breathing exercises showed a 16 per cent increase in their mathematics test scores, compared to a 7 per cent increase for those who did not do such exercises.

Nevertheless, the lead researcher of the study — the findings of which were presented at the Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference organised by NIE last month — pointed out that the students who did not do the exercises and showed less improvement had started at higher scores compared to those who did the exercises.

Dr Fannie Khng Kiat Hui, a research scientist from NIE’s Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, said: “It should be noted that the relationship between trait anxiety and performance is not straightforward. More anxious students do not always show poorer performance. However, this study showed that, at least for highly anxious students who seemed affected in terms of performance, doing deep breathing seemed to help them perform much better.”

The study, which was conducted early this year, involved 122 Primary 5 students from four schools. Based on their responses to a questionnaire, they were grouped according to three levels of anxiety — low, moderate and high — shown during test-like situations. The students were further split into control and intervention groups, comprising of about 20 students each. They then did two timed mathematics tests, which comprised three subtests — addition, subtraction and multiplication questions.

All students were found to have performed better in the mathematics test during their second time.

However, students with high levels of anxiety who were taught and practised deep breathing exercises for the second test improved their scores by 16 per cent.

In comparison, the improvement was 7 per cent for those who were not taught the exercises. Students with moderate and high anxiety levels who practised the exercises also reported reduced feelings of anxiety during the second test.

The study’s final findings will be submitted for publication in an academic journal, said Dr Khng. She said that she embarked on the study because she felt that test anxiety “may be an issue” in the high-stakes examination environment here.

Adding that some teachers had expressed interest in getting their students to try the deep breathing exercises, she said: “Test anxiety is a non-trivial issue as it can artificially depress children’s performance on ability or achievement tests, limiting their subsequent opportunities in education and career.”

Dr Khng said test anxiety could also lead a child to underestimate his knowledge and abilities, which may become an obstacle in the child’s way of realising his full potential. “Hence ... it is important to help children who are adversely affected by test anxiety ameliorate its debilitating effects, early on in life,” she said.

The article can be viewed here


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Source: TODAY (Pages 22 and 23), mediacorp