Why is it harder to remember answers during an exam?

I wished I had learnt how my brain worked when I was at school…

If the brain is so incredibly sophisticated and powerful, then why can it let us down when we need it the most?

Now imagine: It’s exam day… you’ve done all the revisions and prepared really well, but you feel stressed.

This is what happens:

  1. Your brain receives a stimulus (the exam is here).
  2. The exam is perceived as a ‘threat’.
  3. You get sweaty palms, your heart pounds
  4. You are struggling to remember the answers you knew so well
  5. You feel panicked

In Science you may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. It happens because the oldest part of your brain (limbic) PERCEIVES a threat and RESPONDS “alert, danger coming in!”.

The result is that a series of hormones like Adrenaline will rush around your body and send your blood to the limbs (so you are ready to run) and, away from the brain. If you want to know the details ask your science teacher.

However, nothing has actually happened. It’s just your reaction to it, it’s all in your head. In effect, you are being ‘bullied’ by it. There’s not really a tiger after you, but your brain thinks there is.

So now the brain and body are in high alert with all kinds of chemicals running around the body.  We are definitely not in a good state. Often in this scenario we either ‘freeze’ or ‘run’.

This process prevents us accessing the part of the brain that is intelligent and creative and which has the solutions and answers (including the exam answers). Instead we go to what I call the ‘basement’ of our minds.

So, in effect, we’ve just let ourselves down, there wasn’t really any threat, there wasn’t a tiger after us, it was just something we perceived in our minds as threat.  Can you see how that response is not useful, unless of course, there is real danger, then we’d better run!

So that’s what’s happening when you feel stressed or scared of anything!

Now there are strategies you can use to overcome these effects and even better, prevent the stress and maintain a positive state, and of course improve your exam results.

But before I give you my suggestions I’d like to hear from you, what do you do to control your nerves? Or perhaps you are not nervous at all, then explain to us what are your thoughts and tips.

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