What Causes Mind Blanks During Exams?

How a Mind Blank Happens

You prep for an exam and all the information seems coherent and simple. Then you sit for the exam and suddenly all the information you learned is gone. You struggle to pull something up – anything – but the harder you fight, the further away the information feels. The dreaded mind blank.

When you are preparing for an exam in a setting that is predictable and relatively low-stakes, you are able to engage in logical and rational thinking processes called cold cognition.

However, when you enter an unpredictable or high-stakes exam situation – like the ACT or SAT - you enter the realm of non-logical and emotionally driven thinking processes called hot cognition.  The exam can serve to trigger a cascade of unique thoughts – for instance:

If I fail this exam I may not get into a good university or graduate program. Then I may not get a good job. Then I may perish alone and penniless.

With this type of loaded thinking, it’s no wonder that students sometimes perceive an exam as a threat.  The perceived threat, triggers a stress response, working memory is wiped clean, recall mechanisms are disrupted, and emotionally laden hot cognition overrides the normally rational cold cognition. Taken together, this process leads to a mind blank, making logical cognitive activity difficult to undertake.


 Is There Any Way to Avoid This?

 The good news is YES. Students can learn:

·         How to consciously switch from a state of hot cognition to cold cognition

·         Subject specific content

·         Test-taking strategies

·         To work effectively in test simulated situations

If your student struggles with anxiety related to school work or test-taking, contact us to discuss the many ways Vogel Prep can help.

Note: This article has been adapted from one written by Jared Cooney Horvath and Jason M Lodge, University of Melbourne, Australia. The original can be found at:  https://theconversation.com/what-causes-mind-blanks-during-exams-67380

Ellie Vogel

Vogel Prep Educational Services, 13951 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ, 85254