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MY DAUGH­TER BLANKS OUT DUR­ING EX­AMS

Q My daugh­ter, like many stu­dents, is very ner­vous dur­ing ex­ams. She stud­ies hard and does get good grades. But she says she blanks out dur­ing ex­ams, with the re­sult that she does not get the kind of marks she truly de­serves. I won­der if you could sug­gest any tech­niques that might help her to feel more re­laxed and con­fi­dent.

AThis is a very com­mon prob­lem and I’m sure your ques­tion will res­onate with par­ents and stu­dents alike. Some­times the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion that stu­dents place upon them­selves and the worry that they might not live up to those can ac­tu­ally cause them to suf­fer from exam blank­ing.

Exam blank­ing of­ten hap­pens to the best-pre­pared stu­dents, be­cause they are most likely to be the ones who fear fail­ure. The stress that this fear in­duces causes the fight-or-flight in­stinct to kick in. Nor­mal lev­els of stress can help you think and re­act quicker, but when this re­sponse goes into over­drive it starts to tem­po­rar­ily close down those mem­ory path­ways, giv­ing the stressed stu­dent the feel­ing that they can’t re­mem­ber any­thing.

Once you’ve iden­ti­fied this is an is­sue though, it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to over­come it with a few tar­geted strate­gies. Firstly, I ab­so­lutely sub­scribe to the idea of ac­tive re­vi­sion. Many stu­dents feel they know the in­for­ma­tion they are due to be tested on, be­cause they have read through it hun­dreds of times. How­ever, it of­ten be­comes ap­par­ent that this isn’t the case when there’s an exam.

Ac­tive re­vi­sion in­volves dis­till­ing down the key in­for­ma­tion, us­ing mind-map­ping tech­niques and prompt cards, so that the stu­dent can even­tu­ally get to a point where they don’t have to rely on any notes at all. This is the true test of the exam, so reach­ing this point is the only way to repli­cate that sit­u­a­tion.

With this in mind, it’s worth talk­ing to your daugh­ter about how she re­vises for ex­ams as ac­tive meth­ods are far more suc­cess­ful at ce­ment­ing the in­for­ma­tion in the brain.

When it comes to plan­ning re­vi­sion, it’s ab­so­lutely vi­tal to build in time for re­lax­ation too. Re­vis­ing for hours on end can be counter-pro­duc­tive. Blocks of 90 min­utes fo­cused on a task with 30-minute breaks in between rep­re­sents the limit of hu­man con­cen­tra­tion at its most ef­fec­tive, so try to plan around this.

Time re­vi­sion so it ends the night be­fore and avoid cramming new in­for­ma­tion on the morn­ing of the exam as this rocks the con­fi­dence.

Achiev­ing a good bal­ance in life between work and time for re­lax­ation and en­joy­ment is im­por­tant. It’s worth your daugh­ter fo­cus­ing on learn­ing some re­lax­ation tech­niques. Any­thing from self-hyp­no­sis to deep breath­ing meth­ods will help to teach her to put her­self into a more re­laxed mind space so that she can draw upon this skill dur­ing the exam. To sup­port this, a healthy diet, ex­er­cise and a good sleep reg­i­men are also in­valu­able.

About a week be­fore the exam, I sug­gest your daugh­ter starts to drop in some vi­su­al­i­sa­tion tech­niques. By this I mean cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive men­tal pic­ture of her­self in the exam, stay­ing calm, an­swer­ing the ques­tions fully in good time and feel­ing that she has done well. Men­tal re­hearsal of an anx­i­ety-in­duc­ing sit­u­a­tion can ben­e­fit the ner­vous stu­dent enor­mously as it al­lows them to pre­pare emo­tion­ally along­side the more ob­vi­ous in­tel­lec­tual de­mands.

Be­fore go­ing into the exam, it’s wise to avoid other peo­ple who might be pan­ick­ing as this can act as a trig­ger. To com­bat any feel­ings of ris­ing panic, she could also prac­tise deep breath­ing tech­niques. This in­volves tak­ing a deep breath, fill­ing the chest to

Exam BLANK­ING of­ten hap­pens to the BEST-pre­pared stu­dents, as they are most likely to be the ones who FEAR fail­ure. The STRESS that this fear in­duces causes the FIGHT-or-FLIGHT in­stinct to kick in

full ca­pac­ity and then re­leas­ing the air with a big sigh, re­peat­ing three times. This al­lows ten­sion to leave the body more ef­fec­tively.

This more holis­tic ap­proach to exam prepa­ra­tion unites the phys­i­cal, emo­tional and the in­tel­lec­tual so they work more in har­mony. Hope­fully, this will give your daugh­ter that ex­tra boost of con­fi­dence she needs to ful­fil her po­ten­tial. RUSSELL HEM­MINGS

is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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