“Exams are such a disaster for me! I study and I feel like I know the material. When I see the exam paper, my mind goes blank. I can’t remember a thing. I can’t even remember how to spell my own name!”
If this sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. Many students find themselves freezing during exams. It’s a common problem but unfortunately, it’s also a problem that can have serious consequences. If you clam up and can’t remember the answers, your grades won’t reflect your true potential.
There might be several reasons why you get this ‘brain freeze.’ It’s healthy and okay to have these feelings - but not to the point that they are overwhelming. When your feelings threaten to overwhelm you, there are some tools and strategies you can use to help manage them during exams:
1. Insurmountable pressure
One reason you may get this feeling is because either you or someone else has placed a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do well. That feeling of expectation builds and builds until it becomes a real fear – fear of being a disappointment.
The exam now feels like a threatening situation. Sometimes, when we’re in a threatening situation, our bodies freeze. It’s a natural, ingrained response. If we freeze, the bear or sabre-toothed tiger might not see us.
This time, freezing won’t save you from the thing you fear – a low grade. If you think this is a problem for you, remind yourself that you are in control. Talk to the people in your life who are putting pressure on you and ask them to cool off. Talk to a friend or adult who supports you.
2. Incomplete memory
Sometimes you might think you know something, but you actually don’t. The words look familiar, but the meaning behind the words has completely vanished.
Research conducted by Oxford Learning shows that students most often freeze when they don’t remember something. When you learn information, you might file it in the wrong place in your brain. When you go to recall it, you can’t find the facts because they’re not where they should be.
Usually, this happens because you don’t have an active study practice that enables you to store information properly. Changing your study habits will have a huge impact on how well you perform. Try:
3. External problems
There may be other things going on in your life – trouble at home, a painful break-up, a traumatic experience, bullying, or mental illness – that are impacting your ability to concentrate and recall information.
Many students who report freezing during exams also have something big going on in their life. Even when they’re studying, they’re still thinking about this thing, pushing out information for the exam before it can be properly memorised.
The best way to deal with these problems is to tackle them the best you can, by talking to a friend or adult you trust and putting steps in place to ensure you’re safe, healthy, and happy.
Do you freeze during exams? If you know this is something that happens to you, or if you can feel a creeping fear in your gut that things aren’t going to go well – now’s the time to take action.