There is a long history of study into the influence of pressure, both real and perceived, on the performance of students on tests. Sian Beilock, a psychology professor at U. Chicago, has made some interesting observations recently (outlined in papers in academic journals like Science and also in a mainstream media book Choke). She found that many people respond different to anxiety before tests. Some do not perform well and other do. Interestingly, by having people write about their anxiety prior to the test, their performance improved overall. The notion is that perhaps people who do well under pressure may be thinking through the tests in a more productive way ahead of time, but one can learn to do it if it does not come naturally.
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