Students often tell me they know the information before they take their exams, but when they actually take their exam, they lose all their knowledge. There could be many explanations for this, assuming they actually did study :-). One reason could be: they didn’t convert their short term memories from studying to long term memories (consolidation). In that case, quiz yourself with the info instead of just reading your notes. See my post on The Cornell Method – http://www.humanbodyhelp.com/uncategorized/the-cornell-method-of-note-taking/
Another reason could be: they got all worked up and anxious before their exam. Studies show that blood flow decreases in the medial temporal lobes (the part of the brain that houses the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory consolidation and retrieval) when one is under stress. The following is an article on the topic – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12670318
Blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that is responsible for intellect and reason) is also reduced during times of anxiety and stress. The following is an article on the topic – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3494027
So, there’s a physiological basis for not being able to think clearly when you are under stress. The way to combat this is to do what you can to calm yourself before and during your exam. There are deep breathing exercises one can use to calm oneself. One could meditate before an exam to slow their body processes, increasing their parasympathetic tone. When I was in undergrad I didn’t know about meditation. Instead, I took a 20 minute nap before each exam. I’d sit in the hall or in a lounge and just snooze. This calmed me right down. Remember to set an alarm if you do this, though. I slept through the beginning of an exam once because I didn’t set an alarm. Another way to lower stress before an exam is to make sure you’re prepared! If you are ready for anything, that confidence will help your body function better and it will translate into high scores.
Good luck on your exams!
-Dr. Lotz 🙂