5 Tips to Avoid ‘Freeze Ups’ During Tests

“I freeze up when I take tests! I study hard and efficiently, but I freeze up and get low grades!”

Hundreds of high school students have admitted to this happening to them. When students “freeze,” their low grades do not reflect their true ability. Since the first step to beating something is understanding it, we began to ask students why it was so difficult to overcome “freezing.” Their answers surprised us.

We discovered that many students who had been exposed to study skills programs were not using these skills because they weren’t able apply them to their own lives. Often when students learn a skill, such as study skills, it is just memorized — not understood.

In order to be helpful, study skills require a new way of thinking, a new way of considering information. A student who understands how to study usually knows what he or she wants out of school.

Students experience difficulty with planning, organization, memory, studying, listening, and writing tests for reasons that cannot be overcome by memorizing a bunch of new tricks or rules. The hidden ingredient of a successful study skills program lies in the way it unfolds the emotional and motivational issues that are blocking achievement.

Many students arrive at exams in a state of mild panic, which continues to grow until the test begins. The first question looks a little familiar but they can’t remember exactly how to do it, so they move on to the second, telling themselves, “I’ll come back to the first question as soon as I remember.”

The Beginning of Trouble

Each question looks more and more foreign. Remembering only a little of each, they try to fake it. That is called “freezing.” The struggle to remember actually locks the information farther and farther away. Their struggles “freeze” them up even tighter.

Feelings of fear and apprehension are not the problem! The real problem is that students “freeze” when they ask their memory to recall information that they have learned instead of genuine understanding of the material. The way most students file information for retrieval is similar to blindfolding a filing clerk and then asking that clerk to find a very important file.

What would your chances be of getting the correct file? Slim. Students learn information and then file it in their memories incorrectly. When taking an exam, they begin to search frantically for the “missing” files they organized earlier. When this happens, the memory often does not associate well. Mix some panic in and you get the classic exam “freeze.”

An effective study program will address the emotional and motivational problems that are blocking academic achievement. The secret to overcoming “freezing” is shifting from a passive mind set (” I’ll just sit here and wait for the teacher to teach me”) to an active process of questioning, summarizing and integrating information.

Here are the procedures for active learning:

  • Study Notes: Spend 10-15 minutes per subject every night and summarize the day’s lessons into study notes. Break the information down into Main Idea, Supporting Details and Sub Details. Make these notes short and in bullet point form, using your own words.
  • Review: 48 hours later, review your study notes. Don’t memorize; just make sure you fully understand what they mean and what the information is about. Turn the notes into a story or a complete image — use visualization if possible.
  • Keep Track: Keep a small student log book so that you can keep track of assignments, tests, homework and personal information. Make your entries in class as you get the assignments or test dates and look at your book every night before beginning your study time.
  • Learn About Yourself: What distracts you or prohibits you from remaining focused? Noise? People? Movement? When you find what makes it difficult for you to stay alert, make sure you change your environment as much as possible. If noise bothers you, don’t study with a radio on or at the dining room table. Find a quiet place instead.
  • Set Long-Range Goals: Stop expecting school to entertain you. When you learn to stop blaming school for not meeting all your expectations and learn to keep your eye on your long-range goals, you will begin to feel more in control. Take the responsibility to get the most out of it.

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