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bobbinhood's avatar

How can you teach yourself to remember the things you've learned when you're under the pressure of a test?

Asked by bobbinhood (5898points) October 10th, 2011

I gave my students a study skills checklist, and one of the items says, “I study enough for my test, but when I get there my mind goes blank.” A good portion of my students checked yes for that one, and I’m not sure how to help them. If you study well and really know the material, what can you do to keep from blanking out when you take the test?

I am teaching math if that makes a difference in your suggestions. The current course is precalculus, but I would prefer suggestions that work for all math classes.

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10 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

I think it would be different depending on the subject. If it is a subject involving written answers, then you could work your way into it through the writing process.

If it is a subject that requires memorization, then you’re SOL. You could allow them to have the book, but that would defeat the purpose of memorization. However, it’s hard for me to imagine a case where memorization is actually that useful. Maybe language, but then, you don’t really remember something until you use it.

Of course, that’s probably why I’m not a teacher.

If I were teaching, I’d be interested in how the student thinks; not what they can dredge up out of memory. But that’s just me. I’d make it easier for them to bring stuff along to help them remember so they didn’t have to worry about that and could spend their time doing something useful like thinking.

bobbinhood's avatar

@wundayatta You’re right. I should have included the subject. It’s math, and I’m off to edit before it’s too late.

snowberry's avatar

Doesn’t really answer your question, but it helps if there is an unlimited time limit to finish the test. An IEP can take care of that. If you’re an adult, you’d have to talk to a counselor.

CWOTUS's avatar

I simply don’t understand the issue of “pressure” on a test. When I was in high school, if I knew the material and understood what we had covered in class, then there was no necessity and no point to “cramming”, because “I know that stuff.” And if I didn’t know and didn’t understand, then there was no point to cramming to try to retain whatever facts and data points I could memorialize for a little while because “I didn’t get it the first time, and I won’t get it now.”

So I would recommend making the class experience “more like a test”. Ask a lot of questions and demand answers. The answers will show (as the test is intended to show) whether people ‘get it’ or not. And if they don’t, then you need to do something with the class so that more people ‘get it’.

I seldom minded tests, until I started getting into linear algebra / matrix math, which I never ever ‘got’ – and still don’t.


I think the only way, really, is to give your students “mock” examinations often, to put them under the pressure of tests in mock situations. You can only learn to deal with the pressure by experiencing it on a frequent and regular basis. If the opportunity permits, I’d have the students take mini-tests often, tests that imitate the big ones, but do not impact their grades as much. This will allow students to get used to the pressure, and be able to handle it better when they have to take the big tests.

jrpowell's avatar

In college I would write formulas on my beer belly. Turns out that writing them in such a odd place cemented them in my noggin.

nikipedia's avatar

There is a big difference between being able to recognize something when you see it in front of you, and being able to recall it completely on your own.

These kids who say they blank out when they get to the test are probably relying on recognition memory instead of recall. You might want to suggest to them that when they’re studying, they make a mock test of their own and try to solve the problems in a setting similar to a test—a list of questions with no notes in front of them in a timed setting. See how they do.

There is also ample evidence that stress hormones impair memory retrieval. If these kids are freaking out badly enough to impair their memories, maybe they need some relaxation techniques. Or beta blockers.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

I teach myself to remember the principals of theoretical physics used in life scenerio as demonstration by writing poetry.

*But we all knew that.

I’m pretty much self taught in everything I do know. Which is difficult when you attempt to compare your abilities to those who actually went to take a class or invested in an expensive program.

I do my best. What can I say… I don’t go out much.

*Thanks for that by the way.

Judi's avatar

As a teacher, you could have several smaller tests so one test doesn’t carry so much weight. Bombing a test that is 5% of your grade is not near as intimidating as bombing a test that is 50%.

problemlikemaria's avatar

I like to use silly mnemonic devices. For example, Did King Phillip Come Over For Good Spaghetti= Domain Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species.

That’s a more well-known one that people who are not me actually use, but I find that, especially when memorizing formulas or dates, you can usually come up with something like that to help you remember. So, for chemistry, q=m c deltaT, which sort of looks like q=MCAT… if I don’t learn chemistry, I’ll do poorly on the MCAT. Strange way to remember, maybe, but there you go.

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