High levels of anxiety during testing situations compromises an individual’s ability to sustain attention, think logically, and retrieve previously learned information, all of which clearly can contribute to a poor outcome.

According to University of Chicago researchers, nervous test takers may be able to find relief and improve their test performances with the simple use of paper and pencil. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (2014), researchers found that people who were worried about math tests improved their scores by writing their anxious thoughts before the test. The study randomly assigned 80 undergraduates either to write for seven minutes about their feelings about an upcoming math test or to sit quietly before taking the test. Participants who wrote about their feelings had similar test scores, regardless of whether they had reported high or low anxiety about math tests before the exam. Among participants who sat quietly, however, those who reported high math anxiety performed significantly worse than low-anxiety participants on difficult problems, while scores were similar for both groups on easy problems.

In addition to other relaxation strategies, such as mindful breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, it may be worthwhile to take a moment or two to write down your thoughts and feelings before that next big test.