Deep Breathing

Deep Breathing Intervention for Test Anxiety

  • Taking deep breaths before a test:

    • Reduces test anxiety

    • Improves attentional control / focus in primary school aged students

  • Brain activity observed during deep breathing relate to:

    • Enhanced performance in attentional focus and in (timed math fluency) test performance

  • Know that it is possible to collect neuroimaging data from students in schools using mobile electroencephalography* (EEG) devices

    • What does this mean for me?

    • Previously, collecting data like EEG from students had its difficulties. Unlike the low cost, lightweight, wireless, mobile EEG headsets used in this project, conventional EEG systems tended to be very expensive, cumbersome to set up and uncomfortable for students.

      One could hence infer that before the emergence of these low cost EEG headsets, measuring electrical brain activities of students in a classroom setting was not likely to be possible.

      Therefore, these low cost EEG headsets bring about new possibilities to:

    • Collect EEG data that is ecologically-valid, in situ, large-scale and school-based!

CoVAA

Image 1: What is Electroencephalography (EEG)? (view larger image )

Test anxiety is a non-trivial and prevalent problem for school-going children around the world, especially in societies with high-stakes examinations. According to a study by von der Embse, Barterian, & Segool, 2013, 10-40% of students, some as young as age 7, suffer from test anxiety.

Deep-Breathing-Fun-Fact

Infographic 1: Benefits of CoVAA (view larger image)

The Detriments of Test Anxiety
  • Potentially detrimental to children’s psychological well-being and performance, test anxiety can limit children’s test performance and hinder future educational and career progression. Unfortunately, test anxiety is also associated with negative outcomes ranging from low achievement, depression, and suicide ideation.

  • Hence early intervention in schools to equip students with emotional management skills, can mitigate such adverse effects of test anxiety (Khng and Mane, 2020). One such intervention, could be the introduction of deep breathing as a technique to help students with test anxiety.

How was the Research Carried Out?

The research consisted of a pilot study and a main study. In the pilot study involving P5 students, EEG data was collected to compare the quality and pattern of EEG data between a consumer-grade EEG device and a clinical-grade EEG device.


In the main study involving both P5 and S1 students, a comparison between a deep breathing intervention group and a control group of students was made to measure pre-to-post-test changes in:


  • Self-reported feelings of anxiety

  • Timed Math fluency test performance

  • Self-reported state-of-mind

  • Behavioural and EEG measures of attentional focus under evaluative stress instructions


  • Taking deep breaths before a test is a simple intervention that can reduce test anxiety in primary school aged students and improve attentional control/focus

  • Deep breathing has effects reflected in brain activity, which is related to enhanced performance in attentional focus and (timed Math fluency) test performance

  • This study breaks new ground in the local educational neuroscience landscape by bringing neuroimaging into schools and demonstrating the feasibility of collecting electroencephalography (EEG) data from students in schools



Teachers can teach students deep breathing to self-regulate their emotions.


This in turn helps students cope with their test anxiety, allowing for better attentional focus, which is related to better performance.


Schools can consider incorporating deep breathing as part of students’ learning experience.



Classroom resources
Phase of education

Primary and Secondary School

Academic subject

Character and Citizenship Education

Research Participants

m-prose-icon 83 Primary 5 and 37 Secondary 1 Students

Topics

Character & Citizenship Education, Neuroscience, Science of Learning

  • Research Brief Series, No. 19-024, “Effects and Mechanisms of a Deep Breathing Intervention for Test Anxiety” [PDF]

For educators interested in the research methodology behind Investigating CCAs, you may refer to:

  • Kiat Hui Khng (2017), A better state-of-mind: deep breathing reduces state anxiety and enhances test performance through regulating test cognitions in children, Cognition and Emotion, 31:7, 1502-1510, DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2016.1233095 [PDF]

  • Kiat Hui Khng & Ravikiran Mane (2018), Powering up attentional focus, validating a school-based deep breathing intervention with mobile EEG – a pilot exploration, 2018 International Conference on Cyberworlds [PDF]

  • Kiat Hui Khng & Ravikiran Mane (2020), Beyond BCI – Validating a wireless, consumer-grade EEG headset against a medical-grade system for evaluating EEG effects of a test anxiety intervention in school, Advanced Engineering Informatives, Vol.45, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aei.2020.101106 [PDF]

    • Principal Investigator
    • Dr Khng Kiat Hui, Office of Education Research (OER), NIE
      Co-Principal Investigators
    • Prof Kerry Lee, formerly of NIE
      Collaborator
    • Dr Ang Kai Keng, Institute for Infocomm Research, A*Star>
    Research led by
    Author
    Principal Investigator
    Dr Khng Kiat Hui
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Prof Kerry Lee, formerly of NIE

    To learn more, email: kiathui.khng@nie.edu.sg

    Deep Breathing

    Deep Breathing Intervention for Test Anxiety

    Question-Icon
    How findings from Deep Breathing help your students
    • Taking deep breaths before a test:
      • Reduces test anxiety

      • Improves attentional control / focus in primary school aged students

    • Brain activity observed during deep breathing relate to:
      • Enhanced performance in attentional focus and in (timed math fluency) test performance

    • Know that it is possible to collect neuroimaging data from students in schools using mobile electroencephalography* (EEG) devices
      • What does this mean for me?

      • Previously, collecting data like EEG from students had its difficulties. Unlike the low cost, lightweight, wireless, mobile EEG headsets used in this project, conventional EEG systems tended to be very expensive, cumbersome to set up and uncomfortable for students.

        One could hence infer that before the emergence of these low cost EEG headsets, measuring electrical brain activities of students in a classroom setting was not likely to be possible.

        Therefore, these low cost EEG headsets bring about new possibilities to:

      • Collect EEG data that is ecologically-valid, in situ, large-scale and school-based!

    CoVAA

    Image 1: What is Electroencephalography (EEG)? (view larger image)

    Question-Icon
    Why Deep Breathing?

    Test anxiety is a non-trivial and prevalent problem for school-going children around the world, especially in societies with high-stakes examinations. According to a study by von der Embse, Barterian, & Segool, 2013, 10-40% of students, some as young as age 7, suffer from test anxiety.

    The Detriments of Test Anxiety


    • Potentially detrimental to children’s psychological well-being and performance, test anxiety can limit children’s test performance and hinder future educational and career progression. Unfortunately, test anxiety is also associated with negative outcomes ranging from low achievement, depression, and suicide ideation.
    • Hence early intervention in schools to equip students with emotional management skills, can mitigate such adverse effects of test anxiety (Khng and Mane, 2020). One such intervention, could be the introduction of deep breathing as a technique to help students with test anxiety.
    Deep-Breathing-Fun-Fact

    Infographic 1: Deep Breathing Fun Fact (view larger image)

    How does it Work?

    How was the Research Carried Out?

    The research consisted of a pilot study and a main study. In the pilot study involving P5 students, EEG data was collected to compare the quality and pattern of EEG data between a consumer-grade EEG device and a clinical-grade EEG device.


    In the main study involving both P5 and S1 students, a comparison between a deep breathing intervention group and a control group of students was made to measure pre-to-post-test changes in:


    • Self-reported feelings of anxiety
    • Timed Math fluency test performance
    • Self-reported state-of-mind
    • Behavioural and EEG measures of attentional focus under evaluative stress instructions

    Question-Icon
    Key Findings


    • Taking deep breaths before a test is a simple intervention that can reduce test anxiety in primary school aged students and improve attentional control/focus
    • Deep breathing has effects reflected in brain activity, which is related to enhanced performance in attentional focus and (timed Math fluency) test performance
    • This study breaks new ground in the local educational neuroscience landscape by bringing neuroimaging into schools and demonstrating the feasibility of collecting electroencephalography (EEG) data from students in schools


    Question-Icon
    What does this mean for Teaching and Learning?


    • Teachers can teach students deep breathing to self-regulate their emotions.
      • This in turn helps students cope with their test anxiety, allowing for better attentional focus, which is related to better performance.

    • Schools can consider incorporating deep breathing as part of students’ learning experience.


    Question-Icon
    Related Links
    • Research Brief Series, No. 19-024, “Effects and Mechanisms of a Deep Breathing Intervention for Test Anxiety” [PDF]
    Question-Icon
    Further Readings

    For educators interested in the research methodology behind Investigating CCAs, you may refer to:

  • Kiat Hui Khng (2017), A better state-of-mind: deep breathing reduces state anxiety and enhances test performance through regulating test cognitions in children, Cognition and Emotion, 31:7, 1502-1510, DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2016.1233095 [PDF]

  • Kiat Hui Khng & Ravikiran Mane (2018), Powering up attentional focus, validating a school-based deep breathing intervention with mobile EEG – a pilot exploration, 2018 International Conference on Cyberworlds [PDF]

  • Kiat Hui Khng & Ravikiran Mane (2020), Beyond BCI – Validating a wireless, consumer-grade EEG headset against a medical-grade system for evaluating EEG effects of a test anxiety intervention in school, Advanced Engineering Informatives, Vol.45, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aei.2020.101106 [PDF]

  • Question-Icon
    Research Team

    To learn more about this research, please contact Principal Investigator at kiathui.khng@nie.edu.sg.



      Principal Investigator
    • Dr Khng Kiat Hui, Office of Education Research (OER), NIE
      Co-Principal Investigators
    • Prof Kerry Lee, formerly of NIE
      Collaborator
    • Dr Ang Kai Keng, Institute for Infocomm Research, A*Star
    Acknowledgments

    ERFP-Funded example:


    • Deep Breathing was funded by the Education Research Funding Programme, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (project no. OER 08/15 KKH).

    Author Credit Example:


    • This knowledge resource based on OER 08/15 KKH was represented by Tan Giam Hwee.
    Phase of education

    Primary and Secondary School

    Academic subject

    Character and Citizenship Education

    Research Participants

    m-prose-icon 83 Primary 5 and 37 Secondary 1 Students

    Topics

    Character & Citizenship Education, Neuroscience, Science of Learning