How to stop freezing in exams

In summary, the physics-math junior thought that the reason why he has trouble focusing in exams is because he is mentally blocking himself from the knowledge that he is being tested. He advises to be comfortable with not knowing the answer and to develop a list of useful formulas that he can use as references when taking the test. Lastly, he advises to listen to what his teacher says days before the exam and get clues about what will be tested.
  • #1
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Hello there,
I am having a problem to solve in exams. I think it's because am freezing but that's just a speculation. I am a physics-math junior and I study really well, solve without looking at solutions and focus and understand the material.
Yet whenever I enter an exam I can always solve the familiar type of questions but struggle to focus on the others (which constitute near 70% of the exam).
As an example today I did an exam in real analysis. We have been given a problem set (as a homework) with approx. 20 exercises and I solved most of them perfectly although they were supposed to be hard and time-consuming yet they didn't take long with me.
However, when I took the exam it felt as if I didn't know where to start and I couldn't proceed with my proofs. Then I try another exercise and I stress. Then I switch because I couldn't get the intuition of the proof and I stress even more. By the first 15 minutes, I was looking at the exam as a block of language I could not understand. I don't know if this is common or not but it has been the case for most of my exams. Once or twice it didn't happen and I performed way better on those handful occasions. This is why am so eager to know how to solve this issue.

Edit: forgot to mention that everytime I resolve the exam at home, I know how to do the majority of the questions.
 
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  • #2
It sounds to me as if you are mentally blocking yourself in the exam situation from the knowledge that you are being tested. This is really a psychological issue that you should probably discuss with a professional psychologist in order to identify the cause and possible solutions. I do not think it can be resolved by talking to strangers on the internet. If your university offers this kind of services to students it would be a good idea to utilise them or otherwise find a psychologist to help you.
 
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  • #3
I agree with what Orodruin said. However, I had a similar problem during really important test. My dad teaches how to learn, study, and take tests. The most valuable price of information he ever gave me is become very comfortable with not knowing the answers. Don’t get upset and freeze as soon as you enter the test. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, becoming comfortable with not knowing the answer did not come easy for me. It’s also important to know that this is just for tests. You can get upset about not knowing the answers after you have finished the test.
 
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  • #4
Fig Neutron said:
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, becoming comfortable with not knowing the answer did not come easy for me.
I thought that this was my problem. I fear that I cannot see the whole thing through and kind of stop there. Thanks!
 
  • #5
I used to have this issue on tests. I'd start the test and couldn't do the first problem so then I'd look at the next one and then I started to worry about the time limit and I just wanted to get out of there. However, after that initial rush of fear things would subside and I would start doing the problems from the back to the front or simply jump around until I found my rhythm.

Sometimes I would play one problem off against another so as to "relearn" what I had forgotten. You just have to be aware of the time constraints and do things in the most efficient way possible (don't skip checking your answers though / however if your check and answer don't match up and you can't see why my advice is to leave the answer you wrote because sometimes even checks are wrong and some answer is better than no answer).

I would develop a list of useful formulas needed tor the test and commit them to memory. At the start of the test, I'd immediately write them down at the top of the test paper and use them as references to solve some of the problems. You should know where you hesitate or need to look something up when doing problems under non-test conditions. These are the formulas and tips you need to summarize, memorize and bring with you when its time to take the test.

Lastly, it pays to listen to your teacher and what he/she says days before the exam as you will get clue as to what will be tested. I've found a couple of time my teacher warned us to study something that magically appeared on the test. It could be a pause or abrupt change of subject and then you'll know that topic will be on the test.

One time in high school, our trigonometry teacher dragged us into a class of test taking tips. He was dismayed at the recent record numbers who failed it. He taught us not to waste time in drawing pretty full labeled charts (as seen in our books) for our answers and instead learn some simple ways of presenting the answer using tick marks and a few key labels (nowadays his advice would be worthy of the Tufte book). He told us it took him 5 minutes to do his test and so he gave us 45 mins and we wrote like crazy to get done even with the shorthand tricks he taught us. But the lesson stuck and helped me through college as well.

In closing, prepare yourself for the test. You know you're going to panic and listen to yourself, find the triggers of your panic and stay in control of them. Its like walking a tight rope or driving in crazy traffic you can't afford to lose focus. The worst you can do is to go in the test and just sit there and maybe that's what you need to do, reflect some and then start your test.

Think: "There wilI come a day where I could fail, but that day is not this day." (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King spoken by Aragorn)

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Return_of_the_King

  • Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of Men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand! Men of the West!
 
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  • #6
jamalkoiyess said:
I am having a problem to solve in exams. I think it's because am freezing but that's just a speculation. I am a physics-math junior and I study really well, solve without looking at solutions and focus and understand the material. ... Edit: forgot to mention that everytime I resolve the exam at home, I know how to do the majority of the questions.
Here are a couple of articles which might or might not help you:

https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/10-math-tips-save-time-avoid-mistakes/
http://www.ams.org/publications/journals/notices/201707/rnoti-p718.pdf
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/make-units-work/
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/overcame-learning-challenges-faced-studying-stem/

but they are worth reading anyway. They contain a lot of recommendations how to deal with such situations.
 
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  • #7
jedishrfu said:
Think: "There wilI come a day where I could fail, but that day is not this day." (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King spoken by Aragorn)
The quote from LoTR especially helped :)
Thanks to all of you for the great recommendations.
 
  • #8
I used the Bene-Gesserit litany from Dune a few times.
Frank Herbert said:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
 
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  • #9
What also helps is music. It can be used to influence our autonomic nervous system, because only few of us are Tibetan monks. One of my favorites for such situations is

although I'm not really a fan of Wagner. But this one makes you strong due to its slow crescendo and rhythmic acceleration.
 
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  • #10
fresh_42 said:
What also helps is music. It can be used to influence our autonomic nervous system, because only few of us are Tibetan monks. One of my favorites for such situations is

although I'm not really a fan of Wagner. But this one makes you strong due to its slow crescendo and rhythmic acceleration.

Thanks, it's great. In return, I advise one of my favorites:
 
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1. How can I control my nerves during exams?

There are a few techniques you can use to calm your nerves during exams. Taking deep breaths, practicing positive self-talk, and visualizing success can all help to reduce anxiety. It's also important to prepare well in advance and get enough rest the night before the exam.

2. What are some effective study strategies to prevent freezing during exams?

One of the most effective strategies is to break up your study sessions into smaller chunks and review material consistently over time rather than cramming. It's also helpful to practice active learning techniques such as summarizing, creating flashcards, and teaching the material to others.

3. How can I stay focused and avoid freezing during exams?

To stay focused during exams, it's important to eliminate distractions such as your phone or other electronic devices. Find a quiet and comfortable study space and try to maintain a positive mindset. Taking breaks and staying hydrated can also help you stay focused.

4. Is it important to get enough sleep before an exam?

Yes, getting enough sleep before an exam is crucial for optimal performance. Lack of sleep can impair memory and cognitive function, making it difficult to recall information and think critically during the exam. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep the night before an exam.

5. How can I overcome test anxiety and freezing during exams?

Some strategies to overcome test anxiety include deep breathing, positive self-talk, and reframing negative thoughts. It's also helpful to practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. Seeking support from a therapist or counselor can also be beneficial in managing test anxiety.

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