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Pre-exam anxiety 'can boost grades'

Sitting exams and tests is often a nerve-racking experience, but being anxious beforehand may boost a candidate's grades, researchers say.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychology finds being anxious only has a negative impact on results if a child's memory is poor. But if a young person has a good memory, a tendency to feel anxious is linked with getting better marks.

The research assessed 96 children aged 12 to 14 in memory and anxiety tests. A questionnaire established how anxious the children usually felt, and the results were measured against their ability to perform computerised tests involving "complex" or working-memory skills.

"Given that the relationship between anxiety and cognitive performance was only a negative one in the low working-memory capacity group, young people with poor working-memory skills are likely to benefit the most from any intervention that aims to reduce symptoms of anxiety," the report says.

Lead researcher Dr Matthew Owens, who carried out the study at the University of Southampton, said: "The research is exciting because it enhances our knowledge of when, specifically, anxiety can have a negative impact on taking tests. The findings also suggest that there are times when a little bit of anxiety can actually motivate you to succeed."

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Action Medical Research.

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