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OVERCOMING EXAM MEMORY LOSS


It is a subject that interests you, in fact you can almost say that you like it. You have taken good notes and have even put in what you consider to be an appropriate amount of revision time. On exam day you sit ready to begin your paper, confident of success, but when you turn over to read the questions, your mind goes completely blank and you can't think of anything to write. You have two options:

1. Fake violent convulsions, induce green slime vomiting, shudder erratically claiming "the Martians are coming to get me" and hope that the exam is cancelled or at least postponed because of the emotional upset caused by your sudden illness.

2. Adopt a couple of strategies to assist the memory recovery process.

I would suggest that option 1 is only appropriate if you are a very good actor, you have gullible invigilators and your fellow students can fake emotional upset. I wouldn't however recommend this approach more than once, even if you are an X-Files fan. So we are left with looking at some more realistic strategies, most of which do not involve green slime vomit.

Most people who suffer mental blocks under exam conditions do so because it is a symptom of stress. Good preparation and deep subject knowledge can alleviate some of the stress but when faced with mental blanking, the first thing you should do is to breathe deeply and relax. Imagine that you do know the answer and see what comes to mind.

A common reaction will be to stare down at the question or answer paper desperately trying to come up with an answer. This is a mistake as brain research has discovered the position of our eyes actually affects which part of the brain we are accessing. The Science of Neuro Linguistic Programming (or NLP for short) has shown that by looking up we access information from our memories. So if you are faced with a mental block, instead of staring at your desk, look up as you search for that crucial information.

A second strategy to apply is to begin a Mind Map of everything that you know about the subject that relates to the question that is giving you trouble. The power of association and the triggering of key words will help you access the information that you need.

If you can find a question that you can answer, begin that but only after you have read the whole question paper. As you begin the easy answers, you will find that facts or figures relating to the questions you have skipped will pop into your mind. As they do so add them to a Mind Map and finish the question that you are on. Then return to the difficult question later, using your Mind Map as a basis for your answer.

Another thing you could try as you attempt to stimulate the recall process is to try and think of things that are connected to the information in some way. For example, can you think of a particular experiment or example that was used to illustrate the point? Did something unusual happen when you covered that topic? Can you "see" the notes in your minds eye?

As you attempt to withdraw the information from your mind, you might be saying to yourself (possibly out of exasperation) "I don't know this ? I don't know this". If you find you're saying this to yourself, think of a huge pink elephant, playing a Banjo, singing the latest Boyzone single backwards. Now this has nothing to do with recall but it stopped you from programming yourself into not knowing the answer. Now say to yourself "If I did know the answer, what would I write?" and see what happens.

Hopefully good notes, plentiful revision, practice papers and a good attitude will prevent you from having a mental block - but if you do, try some of these strategies to get you back on track.

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