Do you ever get unusually anxious before taking a test? Do you ever choke and blank-out during a test? If so, research suggests you try thinking about a competent person before you take the test. You’ll perform better than you think you will. A study published in Psychological Science found that people who have test anxiety perform better on a test when they are primed with competency before taking it.
Volunteers were measured on their test anxiety, and were placed in either a competency prime group or a control group. The former were asked to read about someone who was successful at solving problems. They had to write about that person’s abilities and describe how this person must have felt before he/she started solving the problem. All participants then completed a cognitive test. Volunteers high in test-anxiety who thought about competency showed higher performance than the control group.
The findings show that people are capable of performing much better than they realize when they are primed beforehand with the idea that they are indeed capable.
Lang, J.W., & Lang, J. (2010). Priming competence diminishes the link between cognitive test anxiety and test performance. Implications for the interpretation of test scores. Psychological Science, 21 (6), 811-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797610369492