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5 Tips to Prevent Freezing On Exams

Student freezing on an exam in class

Most students have likely dealt with freezing on exams despite putting in hours of hard work and preparation. The phenomenon commonly known as exam ‘freezing’ can be a significant obstacle to unlocking academic potential. 

What causes students to freeze on exams? And what learning strategies can students employ to break the ‘freeze’ and pave the way for success?

Tip 1: Understanding Freezing on Exams

Countless high school students share a common concern: they study diligently and believe they understand the material, yet experience a mental block during exams. Brain “freeze” during exams can result in lower-than-expected grades. 

During exams, what actually happens in the brain that causes the mind to go blank?

Exam stress can trigger a shift from logical (cold cognition) to emotionally driven thinking (hot cognition). In a calm setting, minimal stress hormones allow for rational thinking. However, high-stakes exams activate stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol, impairing memory recall and disrupting logical processing. 

This shift, driven by the hypothalamus, can lead to a “mind blank,” wiping out working memory and hindering rational cognitive activity during exams.

Tip 2: Applying Study Skills in Real Life

One surprising fact is that many students who take study skills programs actually struggle to apply these skills effectively in their daily lives. Often, the skills are memorized but not understood.

The missing link is making study skills a fundamental part of one’s thought process—a new way of thinking seamlessly integrating into academic and personal goals. At Oxford Learning, we believe that studying is more than just about memorizing. Instead, proper studying is about deepening comprehension. 

Learn more about our study skills to help here.

Tip 3: Unlock Emotional and Motivational Barriers—Testing Anxiety 

Merely memorizing new rules won’t solve the problem. Successful study skills programs go beyond addressing surface-level issues and delve into the emotional and motivational barriers that hinder academic success. Students can break free from the ‘freeze’ and perform at their true potential by unlocking these hidden obstacles.

Successful study programs go beyond surface-level memorization and understand that testing anxiety can significantly impact a student’s performance. To overcome this, it’s crucial to identify emotional barriers such as fear of failure or lack of confidence. Effective study programs tailor approaches, offering counselling, emotional support, and techniques like mindfulness. 

Promoting a growth mindset encourages students to view tests as opportunities for personal development. Practical strategies such as effective time management and using practice tests help students feel more confident at test time. Ongoing assessment ensures the effectiveness of these approaches, empowering students to overcome testing anxiety and perform at their academic best.

Tip 4: Understand What’s Happening: the Anatomy of Exam Freeze

The experience of freezing during an exam is not a sudden occurrence but a result of various factors that come into play during the test. 

When students encounter questions that may seem familiar, the challenge of recalling the necessary information intensifies, eventually resulting in a mental block. Simply put, students freeze on exams when they try to access information that hasn’t been properly organized in their memory, creating a temporary block in their cognitive processes.

Test anxiety can also make freezing on exams a challenge. The stress caused by test anxiety further hampers cognitive performance, making students freeze on exams.

Tip 5: Active Learning Strategies to Unlock Exam Stress

How can students get over test anxiety? Shifting from a passive mindset to an active learning process is crucial. 

Five Proven Study Strategies for Test Success:

1. Create Study Notes

Every night, spend 10 minutes per subject summarizing the day’s lessons into concise study notes. Break down information into main ideas, supporting details, and sub-details. Make these notes short, in point form, and use your own words.

2. Review

Revisit study notes 48 hours later. Instead of memorizing, focus on understanding the content. Turn the notes into a story or visualization to enhance comprehension and retention.

3. Keep Track

Maintain a day book, planner, or agenda to organize assignments, tests, homework, and personal information. Make entries in class as you receive assignments or test dates. Review nightly before starting a study session.

4. Identify What Works

Identify distractions that hinder focus, such as noise, movement, or crowds. Adjust the study environment accordingly. If noise is a problem, find a quiet place for focused study.

5. Set Long-Range Goals

A mindset shift helps students understand that success is a student’s responsibility. Setting and pursuing long-term goals helps students understand the purpose of learning and take control of their education.

Implementing study strategies contributes to active learning, breaking the cycle of ‘freezing’ by engaging the mind more dynamically and purposefully.

Beat Test Anxiety for Good With Oxford Learning

Oxford Learning can help students break free from the exam ‘freeze’ and find a proactive study approach that goes beyond memorization. By understanding the root causes of this phenomenon and adopting active learning strategies, students can transform their study habits and unleash their true academic potential. 

Remember, it’s not just about studying harder; it’s about studying smarter and more effectively. 

Embrace these strategies, and watch as the ‘freeze’ gives way to newfound confidence and success in your academic journey.

Learn more about overcoming exam freeze and test anxiety at Oxford Learning. 

Oxford Learning helps students stop freezing on exams for good. 

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