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Higher Education
University of St. Thomas
News Release
Thursday, July 18, 2013

Action Research Shows Writing Diminishes Test Anxiety

Research has shown that letting students write about their worries for 10 minutes before an exam substantially diminishes the link between test anxiety and test performance, according to a report published in Science Journal in 2011 by Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L. Beilock. University of St. Thomas recent graduate Susan Mathis researched a similar topic for her capstone project in the Master of Education program. Her data supported their report. 

Over the course of two semesters, 975 students in the UST M.Ed. program researched topics relevant to their interests. Fourteen students with outstanding projects, including Mathis, were awarded Distinguished Action Research Study Awards as a culmination of the hard work in their capstone projects.

Dr. Catherine Barber, assistant professor and director of Research at UST, said these awards are a way to spotlight excellence in educational research within the School of Education and to promote graduate students’ development as action researchers.

“The School of Education research faculty are proud of the accomplishments of all of our students, as the action research process can be long and arduous,” Barber said. “The Distinguished Action Research Award recipients have produced work that is of the highest caliber, and I congratulate them on their success.  We hope that many of the recipients will pursue publication of their work.”

Students identified a topic of their choosing, reviewed the scholarly literature on this topic, wrote a research proposal, conducted the study, analyzed the data and reported the research findings. Winners were selected by a panel of faculty reviewers with expertise in research. 

Mathis’ project was titled “Exploring the Effects of Expressive Writing on a Student’s Test Anxiety and Performance.” Mathis tested the effectiveness of expressive writing before testing to diminish anxiety and achieve improved performance. She said students experience a number of high-stake assessments during their academic careers, and may experience test anxiety because their performance may impact not only high school graduation, but also future career goals, such as university acceptance.

“As an educator, I have seen an increase in student test and performance anxiety,” Mathis said.  “Although some level of stress may not hinder a student’s performance and may lead to increased productivity, test anxiety may be debilitating to the extent that the student is unable to perform reflective of their ability.”

Many students do research related to the schools where they teach and apply the results. Mathis’ subject was a student of hers at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, Texas, a co-educational, non-sectarian, independent, college preparatory day school. Data suggested an association between reduced anxiety and improved performance when the participant responded to an expressive writing prompt before testing. She was able to observe the benefits the student received from the study, and it has inspired her to move forward with her research.

“Because I chose a topic that interested me prior to beginning the program, the research and analysis were interesting, engaging and very personal to me,” Mathis said. “This project followed a couple of years of reading and attending conferences related to the topic. It is an exciting and humbling experience to be selected for the award, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my results with colleagues.”

Mathis, who lives in The Woodlands, was grateful to the UST master’s program because it gave her an opportunity to complete the program in only two years, and the satellite location at The University Center campus in The Woodlands was very convenient for her. She also valued the face-to-face versus online instruction, which ultimately allowed her to focus more on studying and research and less on travel. The School of Education offers classes at 15 satellite sites around Houston, which provide face-to-face, online and hybrid instruction.

Other action research topics included “Comparing ESL and Dual Language Students’ Reading Comprehension Growth through Vocabulary Strategies” and “Effects of Intensive Vocabulary Instruction with At-risk Student Populations.”

The University of St. Thomas, dedicated to educating leaders of faith and character, is a private institution committed to the liberal arts and to the religious, ethical and intellectual tradition of Catholic higher education. St. Thomas is Houston’s only Catholic University and was founded by the Basilian Fathers. “Like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, @stthomashouston.

Remembering Jim Guidry

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