Let's Talk About Nothing

This is it: the big day. You have your pencils lined up in a row, your trusty water bottle beside you and a daunting white stack of papers staring at you. You stare back, willing it to be kind.

You’ve studied the material. Okay, “studied” may be an exaggeration but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

With thoughts swirling around in your mind, you take a deep breath then turn the page. And…


Your mind goes blank. The thoughts you had just a minute ago slip away faster than you can blink.

No one is immune to blank outs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to minimize their impact.

Relax, take a sip of water and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. A mental boot-camp may be ideal, but hoisting life-altering expectations on your shoulders? Not so much. The primary reason for drawing a blank is stress. In the frantic need to have all the answers, your brain abandons logic and enters a realm of emotionally-driven thinking. By skipping ahead to questions you know and answering them in succession, you can rebuild that confidence and reduce stress.

As a kid, I remember crying when it was time to get my hair cut at the nearby Melonhead. I was stressed before I even knew what being stressed meant, but it became easier each time I went back. I’m happy to report that I no longer cry when getting my haircut (unless it looks really bad). What I'm saying is that you can’t overcome your fear of exams without putting yourself in similar situations. If your department has mock exam times, go to them! Alternatively, print out your own mock exam and give yourself the same constraints that will be enforced during the real exam. It’s a great way to get some extra practice and reduce your anxiety during the actual test.

Maybe your lack of brainpower has been caused by a heavy onset of fatigue. If that’s the case, give yourself a minute during the exam, breathe and let your mind wander completely. I guarantee that minute is better spent recharging than overworking your already tired brain.

If you’ve tried everything and your thoughts still elude you, allow that emptiness to pave the way for new thoughts. Your exam is your cheat sheet. Every multiple choice and short answer question is feeding you information, and often the answer to one question is partially hidden in another. Use the terminology they give you to foster new thought.

Exam stress happens to the best of us, but it has some quick and easy fixes. Everyone who studies the material, barring a last-minute cram session, has the capability to access those thoughts. It’s all about harnessing the rational and logic-driven parts of our brain without letting the anxiety and paranoia set in. Hopefully these exam-taking tips will allow you to put your best foot forward and walk out with a smile on your face!