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What to do with a blackout during an exam and how can I prevent it?

Published on October 22, 2018·Latest update at August 30, 2019
How to study for exams - What to do with a blackout during an exam and how can I prevent it?

A blackout during an exam is a student’s worst nightmare. Especially when you already had the feeling that you weren’t going to make it in the first place. You feel afraid to forget things already and then you forget everything. Your memory is totally blocked and you can’t think of anything useful at that moment. During a blackout is memorised information temporarily unavailable. This is caused by noradrenaline, which is produced by your adrenal glands when you experience stress. When this is overproduced, you lose the possibility to think logically and you will have a blackout. But, how do you cope with something like this?


What is a blackout? 

During a blackout, the information you memorized is temporarily unavailable. Your mind feels blocked and you cannot think of any useful information at that moment. Actually, a blackout is caused by noradrenaline, which is produced by your adrenal glands when you experience stress. When this is overproduced, you lose the possibility to think logically and that is how the blackout arises. 


What to do?

There are several things you can do to prevent a blackout and to cope with one. One by one we will discuss them. 


Jump to the next question

Often when you start stressing about one question, you forget the information necessary to answer the other questions. You also lose valuable time when you spend too much time on one question. When you are in the middle of an exam, and you cannot find the right answer to a question immediately, move on to the next. After answering some other questions, the answer to that one difficult question might pop up after all.


Divide the questions into small pieces

We find it really helpful to divide the question into small pieces. In open question professors usually start asking for a definition, before going more into depth. To get enough points for that satisfactory grade, it is really important to read the questions carefully and make sure you answer all different components of the question. When you start writing, you usually know more than you thought in advance. 


Take a short break

You have more than enough time during an exam to take a short break. Look around you, have a sip of your drink, a bite of your snack and try some breathing exercises. It gives you new energy and you will be able to make a second start with a fresh mind. 


Look ahead

Don’t get frustrated about the fact you suffer from blackouts, this will only make it worse. Comfort yourself and try to fill in what you do know instead of focusing too much on the information you do not know. And always remember that a resit is there for a reason, you can always try again! 


How to prevent one? 

Do you recognize the feeling of starting your exam way too fast without taking a deep breath, because you do not want to forget anything?! Just before the start of the exam you quickly read through your notes again, trying to take up as much information as possible. This often causes an overload of information. Your brain can have a hard time processing this information. Our advice is to try to stay calm and read one question at a time.  


If you receive some scrap paper from the supervisor, then use this at the beginning of the exam. It is super handy to use a piece of paper for notes and especially for all the things of which you are afraid to forget. Once you have written those down, you can completely focus on the exam itself.


As we just mentioned already it is a good idea to do some breathing exercises. This will calm your body and this way you will hopefully be able to cope with the nerves a bit better. Breath in and out (very slowly) for about ten times and try to breathe from your stomach. This way your brains get enough oxygen to break down the noradrenaline. 


If you are afraid of getting a blackout, try to find the reason behind it and try to find out what could be the cause of the blackout. With that in mind, if you can prevent a blackout by using these tips, you will have a better chance of passing your exam with a good grade. However, if a blackout still happens during an exam, try to stay calm. Either way, these blackout tips will help you stay calm and remember all the answers to the questions.


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