What to do when you blank out in an examination
Blanking out in an exam, whether it happens once or every time you face a test situation, is an unnerving and frustrating experience.
Usually exam stress and blanking out is caused by anxiety. There is a great deal of pressure to perform well in exams and a lot of fear that if you don’t it will affect your future negatively, especially if it is school-leaving exams. Even for younger learners, they may fear disappointing their parents or even being punished if they do not produce good results.
What you can do before an exam to reduce the chances of blanking out or freezing:
- Prepare well
Study the content you need to study for the exam. Pay attention in class and listen for any clues the teacher may give such as tips on the sorts of questions which are often asked. Ask your teacher if there are any areas to concentrate on or spend time preparing. Do the work. Practise and do examples and past papers where possible.
If you are struggling in a particular subject, engage the services of a hand-picked tutor who will assist you to catch up or help you close any gaps in your knowledge and give you other perspectives.
If you fear that you are studying incorrectly or that you don’t know how to study correctly, consider investing in a study skills crash course which will greatly build your confidence and reduce your stress.
2. Prepare emotionally
In addition to academic preparation, it may be helpful to prepare emotionally, particularly for subjects that you do not feel very confident in. Picture yourself going into the examination, being calm, reading through the paper and tackling the questions you know. Realize that if you do your absolute best, that is all anyone can ask of you. Realize that even if you don’t do as well as you would like, it is not a matter of life and death. Think of possible contingency plans if you do not do as well as you wanted to – this will help you to feel that you still have some control.
3. Prepare an exam strategy
The Study Skills Crash Course will help you with this. In general, some good tips are: read the paper carefully, answer the questions you know beforehand, and if you have time at the end, read over your answers.
4. Physical preparation
Make sure you get enough rest, do some physical exercise, eat good food which stimulates concentration (like fish), and cut down on junk food and sugar.
5. Organize examination concessions assistance
If you qualify for examination concessions due to some barrier to learning or learning disability, ensure that you apply for this well before exams. Ensure that you have the necessary help during your exams by booking a trained and qualified concessions facilitator beforehand to avoid disappointment.
What to do during an exam if you blank out:
Even if you have prepared well beforehand and you know your work, you may still suddenly blank out in the examination room. Try the following:
- If you are being assisted by a facilitator, alert them to the fact that you have gone blank and allow them to direct you.
- If you are alone, remember that this is not a life-threatening situation (even if it feels like it), and that you will get through this. Turn your paper over, close your eyes, and breathe in deeply. Breathe out slowly. Do this several times until your breathing returns to normal. If you need to do this several times during the the exam and you fear running out of time, remember that this is preferable to being unable to do anything at all on the exam paper!
- If need be, leave the question you were working on (leave some blank space if necessary), and continue with a question you feel more confident about.
- Read through your exam paper and mark all the questions you feel more confident about. Aim to answer those first. It is not strictly necessary to answer questions in the order they are asked in the exam paper, but you MUST ensure that all questions are numbered strictly according to the numbers on the exam paper. If your paper is a mess and not numbered correctly, the examiner will be unable to mark it and you will lose marks unnecessarily.
After the exam:
- Do not waste time beating yourself up about blanking out in the exam! Exam post-mortems serve no good purpose unless they help you to identify what caused you to blank out and to remedy the situation. Let it go otherwise.
- Remember that an exam situation is a stressful situation by its very nature. Most people are not overjoyed at the thought of writing exams. If you are affected to the extent that you cannot function in any exam no matter how much you prepare, you will need to learn adequate coping mechanisms like consulting a qualified Edu-coach or investigating whether you qualify for a concession.
Action of some sort is the best way to move you forward and gain control of the situation. Identify what needs to be done and do that. Exams do not control you. Your future consists of more than writing exams!
Written by Natalie Wilke, BrightSparkz Staff & Blog Writer