A Study of Underprepared College Algebra Students and Test Anxiety: The Impact of Using Expressive Writing on Test Performance

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Sefton, Rachel Erin
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Middle Tennessee State University
Ramirez and Beilock (2011) found that highly test-anxious, ninth-grade Biology students who wrote expressively about their feelings and emotions about their impending final examination outperformed students who wrote objectively about a topic they did not think would appear on the examination. The current study not only extends existing knowledge from Ramirez and Beilock's (2011) research to underprepared College Algebra students over the course of a semester, but it also provides greater depth of knowledge by examining how the students react to writing immediately before their tests.
The quantitative component of this mixed-methods study was quasi-experimental, using Mann-Whitney U tests to compare group means. The qualitative component utilized triangulation and the systemic approach to grounded theory to analyze the participants' written responses to the writing prompts, their written responses to a questionnaire, and the interviews of some purposefully selected participants.
The study found no statistically significant differences on test performance. In regard to what participants did when asked to write, some participants did not write before every test, and some of those who did write did not always follow the directions. Those who did write expressively often wrote about why they were anxious or were not anxious. A common reason for being anxious was not having studied well, and a common reason for not being anxious was having studied well. In regard to what participants thought about the experience, the majority of those who wrote expressively did not feel a decrease in their test anxiety before starting their tests. The researcher concluded if these students were not prepared for the test, then expressive writing would have little if any effect on their test performance. Implications for educators are: (1) evaluate how the institution is teaching students study skills, and (2) reserve the intervention of expressive writing for students who come to the test well-prepared but still anxious. Future studies should include a scale that measures students' study habits to see how that might correlate with test anxiety and test performance.
Expressive writing, Mathematics, Test anxiety, Underprepared college students