There you are, sweating in the plastic chair, staring at the huge clock on the wall. The clock is ticking, your hand is shaking and your mind is blank. Does this sound like you during exams? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. A mental block is very common during exams.
It’s not your fault, many students and exam-takers experience this block, no matter how much they study, cram, and stay up all night. Now, what causes this? When you are studying, especially in a familiar and relaxing environment, your stress levels are super low. This makes it easier for you to digest information and retain it.
Once you enter that exam hall, you’ve entered a stress-filled environment. Your brain quite literally goes into stress overload. Your memory goes blank to combat the stress. It’s not on you, it’s biological!
There is some good news though — it is totally manageable.
5 Ways To Overcome Mental Blocks
Tip #1 Practice breathing techniques
You know how in anxiety-filled moments, people tell you to just breathe it out. It seems unhelpful, but it is efficient. When you feel a mental block coming by or you are already in it, you should try a few breathing techniques. When controlling your breathing, your body automatically receives more oxygen. This helps overcome increased heart rates and muscle tension.
1. The First Technique
Inhale through your nose. Keep your body relaxed and free (don’t lie down!) Ensure that you expand your diaphragm (abdomen) when inhaling
Exhale through your mouth. Make sure that you exhale slowly, with a relaxed jaw.
Repeat it as many times as you want.
2. The Second Technique
Inhale through your nose for a count of 10 seconds. Stay relaxed and close your eyes. It’s okay, the exam can wait.
Hold that breath for 10 seconds more. Focus on the counting as it helps recenter your thoughts and fears into what you need to do.
Exhale for 10 seconds. You should do this through your mouth.
After these techniques, open your eyes and acknowledge what you need to do.
Tip #2 Focus on the present
Do you hear the clock ticking? Someone’s tapping their pencil. Maybe it’s too cold here or too hot. These are signs that you are in a sensory overload. Every sound, feeling, and movement is too much to handle. Especially since you are trying to remember what you studied.
One of the best tips suggested by previous exam takers and psychologists is to focus on where you are. Focus on one item in the room. Perhaps the clock, or one spot on the wall.
Even if you are having an online exam, focus on something in your view. Just clear your mind and stare.
It sounds counter-productive since you have to focus on the exam, but it isn’t. By focusing on one thing in the room, you are redirecting your thought process to one single thing. After a few minutes, blink the item out of focus and concentrate on your exam once again.
Tip #3 Take a break
Many individuals think “How can I rest? I have a time limit!” And they are absolutely right. The clock is ticking, but your brain is not. You have to remove yourself from the stress-filled environment of the exam location and shake off the stress. Often enough, mental blocks are brought on by the sudden rush of stress. The best way to avoid it? To temporarily remove yourself from the situation.
Students can benefit from getting permission to go to the washroom. Wash their face, take a moment to breathe, and remember what they need to.
One can also simply take a good stretch in their chair. Not everyone has the time to go to the washroom, so this tip is effective too. For this, start clenching and unclenching each part of your body, starting from your toes all the way to your face.
Don’t worry, this tip does not take up too much time. It’s better to do a good job rather than a rushed one.
Tip #4 Freewrite
Many students are familiar with this. When you are stuck on a question, the best thing to do is simply pour out all of your thoughts. This is quite effective as it helps students remember not only what they need to, but other things in the subject as well.
If you are given a spare paper, start writing each thing you remember about the subject. Even if it’s irrelevant to the question. You won’t have time to produce a mind map or for your writing to be neat, so don’t bother. You simply need to trigger a thought that can relate back to your question.
Even without any paper around, you can do this technique mentally. Start off by thinking about the general subject of the exam. For example, physics. Then think about anything you remember relating to it, like in this case, specific equations and what they are for. Then refocus on that.
You should continue free writing or thinking until you reach a block. Once that happens, take a moment. Then, reread your question. You are sure to remember something about it!
Tip #5 Drink some water
The age-old hack, drinking water. It sounds silly, but drinking water during an exam has an extremely good effect on the body. It has been said that it alleviates stress and lowers anxiety. Although you may not necessarily be anxious, mental blocks are triggered by stress. Thus, this is a good way to overcome it
All you need to do is take a minute and drink some water! While doing so, you can apply the tip above and focus on your present.
Remember not to drink your whole cup or bottle, it won’t help. The main idea is to relax and focus.
Ultimately, mental blocks are unavoidable. Everyone experiences them, and it will be worse when taking exams. The important thing is to remember that they do not control you, rather, you control them.
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