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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 March 25, 2019

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?


Jump to the next question

When you’re doing an exam and you can’t think of the right answer, try to move on to the next question. After you have answered some other questions, the answer might pop right up in your head and you can answer it anyway. Because when you start stressing about the answer that you don’t know, it might be possible that you will forget the answers to the other questions as well. You even might need to hurry afterwards, because you spend so much time on that one question.


Divide the questions in small pieces

Sometimes the answer is on the tip of your tongue, which can be real frustrating, because you can’t get to the answer. It can be very helpful to divide the question into smaller questions, so you can answer every part of the question. You can try to visualize everything you have learned and write or draw this out. Really try to focus on what you know, instead of what you don’t know.


Take a short break

When you experience a blackout and you can’t think of anything anymore, take a few minutes to have a short break. Look around you, try to be calm and drink something. Often, the panic gives you a dry mouth. Try to get some new energy and make a second start with a fresh mind.


Look ahead

Tell yourself that it’s ok what’s happening now, it’s not the end of the world if you have a blackout. So comfort yourself and agree to come back to this question later on. You should now focus on the exam, so try to read it slowly. Also, you can try to tell yourself to start worrying after the exam, but not now. This way you postpone the panic and your mind will be able to think again.


How to prevent a blackout

Often, when you start an exam, you start way too hasty and quick, because you don’t want to forget anything. You try to take up as much information as possible of the exam, so your brain gets a lot of information to process at the same time. Really try to keep calm and read one question at a time, slowly. Take a moment in between them, to think and try to answer the question.


If you get a piece of paper to use for notes or as a draft, use it at the beginning of the exam. Write down all the things of which you are afraid to forget them. Once you’ve written those down, you can focus on the exam questions.


Before you start the exam, do some breathing exercises. This will calm your body so you can cope with the nerves you already felt. Breathe slowly in and out for about ten times and try to breathe from your stomach. This way your brain gets enough oxygen to break down the noradrenaline.


If you are afraid to get a blackout, try to find out the reason behind it and the possible cause of it. Maybe you will discover some things that can be the cause of a blackout, so you can work on those things.


Try to practise at home with a situation wherein you can possibly experience a blackout. You the tips we explained above. So when you actually do get a blackout during an exam, you know how to act and how to solve it.


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