How to Remember What You Know When You Need To

Your subconscious mind stores everything. When you feed your cortex plenty of water by drinking lots of it and plenty of oxygen by relaxed breathing each time you take in new information and concepts, your conscious mind is awash with healthy blood. If you are nervous when you are asked to expound on these new concepts or regurgitate new information, the blood leaves your cortex and rushes to your reptilian brain. You forget everything you knew when the blood was in your cortex.

Later, when relaxed, all that new information comes back to you. You wonder where it went when you needed it.

That happened to me on a job interview once. I didn’t get the job.

Standardized tests are a fact of life in elementary school, high school, and college, and employment application tests are a fact of life in the job market. Most test-takers feel some anxiety before exams, but for many, tests are serious stumbling blocks. No matter how prepared they are or how hard they study, their minds go blank.

Psychologists and counselors who treat students and the public for panic attacks say that test anxiety can have as many symptoms as a physical illness, including headaches, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, hot flashes, cold sweats, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, dry mouth, dizziness, and even fainting spells.

The most widely used methods for treating test anxiety include preparation, practice, developing good study habits, remembering to eat, sleep, and exercise on a normal schedule, maintaining a positive attitude, and learning relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.

“All of these can make a difference,” says Los Angeles physician Eric Robins, MD, “but when someone feels anxious, his or her sympathetic nervous system is firing off, producing the rapid pulse, sweating, and other symptoms that are associated with test anxiety. I think this shunts blood away from the frontal lobes of the brain, which is where much of our thinking, processing, and test-taking ability comes from. In an exam or interview situation, this is a problem.”

When you restore the body’s flow of energy and blood circulation you return to the physiological state you were in when you learned the material in the first place.

One way is self-hypnosis: relaxing enough to bring your brain to the alpha state. Writing can be a tense task. When I taught writing I took my students on a guided fantasy before I asked them to write. I had them close their eyes and listen to my voice take them out in nature. I gave them wings and had them fly different places that I described using all five senses. Then I left them with a specific writing assignment. Always, they wrote fast and easily after a guided fantasy. Then they had material and confidence to re-write.

Understanding the physiology of test-taking leads to discovery and to methods that lead to test-taking success.

The whole-mind works a whole lot better than the frontal lobes alone.

Copyright (c) 2006 Cole’s Poetic License