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I'm a 17 year old high school student.

I try to explain my problem using a short example:

During a maths test I have tried to remember a formula, which I just learned a few days before. Normally I know this formula immediately but in this test I sat there like I would have never seen anything of this stuff before. After about three minutes I finally thought I would remember this formula again, but I did not. The formula on my paper was not correct, though I thought it would be. Then there were some other mistakes like hitting the wrong buttons on the calculator and so on.

Seems like I cannot be productive under pressure.

Any advice would be great :)

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You should also search for and read answers to study advice soft-answer questions on – NeuroFuzzy Apr 3 '14 at 20:56
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It sounds like you are experiencing an anamygdala hijack.

An anamygdala hijack is your brain's response to a physical or emotional threat.

This reaction prepares your body to either fight the threat or run from the threat. When one experiences an amygdala hijack, the amygdala overtakes the cerebrum (the thinking part of the brain) and there’s little or no ability to rely on intelligence or reasoning. The effect is that energy is drawn exclusively into the hijack. The immediate result of a hijack is a decrease in working memory. Adrenaline is released and will be present and effective for 18 minutes, and other hormones are released into the bloodstream that will take 3 - 4 hours to clear. (Source:"Conflict and Your Brain aka "The Amygdala Hijacking")

So What do you do? Try this a few minutes before your test if or whenever you feel this reaction coming on.

  1. Pause from what you are doing. Close your eyes for a moment, It can be short.
  2. Take a deep breath, go outside if you can.
  3. Acknowledge what you are feeling. Give it a name. Say the name to yourself. This brings the thinking part of your brain a chance to start working again.
  4. Realize that you've studied this before and you really learned it at one point. Once the thinking part of your brain comes back. Chances are good you will remember what you need to remember.
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Hadn't seen that term before, thx – New Alexandria Apr 3 '14 at 13:50

Some suggestions:

  1. Reduce the effects of stress by learning and applying relaxation techniques.
  2. Accept that some effects of stress are inevitable, and take measures to compensate for them. For example, double-check your calculations.
  3. Spend more time practising, as that will help you remember them under pressure more easily.
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Can you recommend a relaxation technique? – overflow Mar 26 '14 at 9:56

The following worked for me:

  • Let your brain realize the importance of the subject:

    If these things did not have any emotional attachments (and you don't use that info on a regular basis), your brain just gets rid of that with all other useless trash (our natural built-in CLR garbage collection)

    If you really want to remember these topics in the future, try to reinvent all that by yourself. Spend some time trying to figure it out and then (and only then) allow yourself to use information from the book. All these emotions (frustration, excitement of your discovery etc) will keep these topics in your mind for a long long time.

    Update - there is one more thing you can do: in a few days (weeks) after you have studied a certain topic, explain this topic to someone else - real or imaginary audience


  • Mindfulness meditation:

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Specifically during a test the advice I hear is: move on to the next question. Not only is this efficient in time (not wasting any) but also in energy (not bothering that you don't know at that moment). That last one seems important for you. See also Manuelhe's amygdala hijack answer, you seem to have a judgment about not knowing (at that moment), which will further block you.

If you then revisit the question some time later you'll find that often the memory has come back. For not-yet-understood-reasons, memory retrieval processes are not on/off switches.

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