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"I knew my work, but the moment I had to start writing the exam, I went completely blank." Perhaps you can identify with this experience and will be interested in understanding why it happens and how to avoid it. The cause of going blank in exam is anxiety - fear of failure, the fear of going blank once again, the belief that you will fail, self-talk like "I'll never be able to pass this exam", fear of not being good enough, over-learning and self-doubt. When you are anxious and fearful the brain downshifts into the inner brain where fight or flight prevails. The more primitive inner brain is very good at attacking, running away or defending yourself, but it is totally inadequate when it comes to writing exams. To tap into the knowledge and insight you have already acquired you need to make full use the cortex - the outer layer of the brain, which is good at remembering facts, reasoning, logic, order, control and writing an exam. Fear and anxiety paralyze the cortex. It follows that one should be more relaxed, calm, confident and happy when writing exams, which is a tall order and seldom possible. Also, people who are casual, relaxed and don't-care do not generally fare well in their exams. Look at the Bell curve: Inadequate effort, energy and tension (positive stress) when preparing for and writing an exam tend to lead to low achievement. The ideal amount of effort and stress lies between -1 and +1. If the stress level exceeds +1 your achievement potential rapidly decreases. In my experience those who achieve at the -3 to -4 end of the scale can be those who lose themselves in computer games where they experience the illusion of being in control, or put all their energy into sport or surfing or smoke marijuana, or abuse other addictive substances. Another somewhat convoluted cause is pressure from the parents to the extent that the learner would rather destroy himself than please them - a phenomenon that I see all too often in my work as a psychologist. At the other end of the scale you find people who are excessively anxious, who pressure themselves unduly, doubt their own abilities and obsessively study for long hours. In order to achieve according to your potential balance is required. If you are at the -4 end of the scale you would not be reading this article, so let's consider practical techniques that you can use to move from +3 or+4 towards the ideal centre of the Bell curve. •Breathe into the tummy while relaxing your jaw muscles and shoulders. Imagine you have a balloon in the tummy and fill it on the in-breath. Imagine that you are breathing through a hole in the base of your throat or through the ears. •Imagine or pretend you are sitting in a protective bubble, which keeps you perfectly safe. If you feel safe, more of your cortex functions effectively. Put a soft favorite color inside the bubble,


or flowers, or a calming scene from nature. Imagine being able to smell it. •Before you start writing the exam, put your elbows on the desk, intertwine your fingers and push your hands against the slight protrusion on your breastbone. This helps to integrate the left and right brain and increases your energy level. •Untwine your fingers and very lightly allow your fingertips to touch one another on the desk. Stare fixedly at the point where the forefingers touch without blinking your eyes. It focuses you. Now close your eyes and notice whether you can see an afterimage - an outline of your hands. This is the ideal time to give yourself affirmations, e.g. telling yourself in a calm voice "I'm calm and in control" a few times. •Make a picture of your ideal outcome for the exam - seeing the precise percentage that you will obtain. You are deeply suggestible at this point and whatever you tell yourself will have a profound influence on your outcome. By doing all these things there is simply no space for anxiety in your consciousness and you are effectively programming your brain for success.

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