June 28, 2022

“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 Security+ exam.

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.

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