Freezing on Exams
January 11, 2022

Students have had this concern as long as tests have been given. When students are freezing on exams, grades are low. However low grades do not reflect a student’s true potential for learning.

The first step in beating something when in the process of learning is to understand it. We asked students why it was so difficult when it comes to overcoming freezing on exams. Their answers surprised us. We found that many students who had been exposed to study skills programs for learning were not using these skills because they did not know how to apply them to their own lives. Often when students learn a skill, such as study skills, it is simply memorized – not understood.

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overcoming freezing on exams on the process of learning | study skills programs for learning

In order to be effective in overcoming freezing on exams, study skills must be a new way of thinking, a new way of considering information when in the process of learning. Interestingly a student who truly knows how to study when in the process of learning, and has internalized that information, also has a tendency to know what they want out of school and life.  

Students experience difficulty with organization, memory, planning, studying, listening, and writing tests for reasons that cannot be overcome by memorizing a bunch of new rules. The magic of successful study skills programs for learning lies in the way it unlocks the emotional and motivational issues that are blocking success.

Many students arrive at exams in a state of mild anxiety, which grows until the teacher tells them to turn over their papers and begin. The first question looks a little familiar but they don’t remember exactly how to do it, so they go on to the second question promising to come back to the first question as soon as they remember.

Then the Trouble Begins 

Each question looks more and more difficult. Looking over the exam, the student doesn’t know where to start. That is freezing. The struggle to remember makes the test harder. Their struggles freeze them up even tighter. At best a student will try to fake it, at worst they will turn in a blank exam.

Feelings of fear and apprehension are not the problem. The real problem is that students freezing on exams happen when they attempt to recall information that they have learned and filed incorrectly. The way most students file information for retrieval is often inefficient and has little structure.

If a student does not have an efficient and structured method of filing information, what are the chances of accessing that information when it is needed? An already anxious student taking a test might frantically try to retrieve information which in turn only locks the student up more. They hear the clock ticking, they know they only have so much time and now they freeze. 

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

overcoming freezing on exams on the process of learning | study skills programs for learning
Here are procedures for active learning:
  • Study Notes: Spend 10 minutes per subject every night to summarize the day’s lessons into study notes. Break the information down into the Main Idea, Supporting Details, and Sub Details. Make these notes short and in point form, in 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 picture – use visualization if possible.
  • Keep Track: Keep a student day planner 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 things distract you? Noise? Movement? Crowds? When you discover what makes it hard for you to pay attention, make sure you change your environment as much as possible. If noise bothers you, don’t study with a piece of music on or at the dining room table. Find a quiet place instead.
  • Set Long-Range Goals: School is not for entertainment. This is the place where goals are identified and foundations are built. Use this time as a means to achieving those goals and you will begin to feel more control and power over your life.
Grade Power Learning

Students can find help at GradePower Learning.

For 25 years GradePower Learning has been helping students reach their academic potential with uniquely developed programs that make a real difference in the way that children approach their learning. With GradePower Learning, better grades are just the beginning. has a huge resource of tutoring providers. To find out more, visit the Tutoring Category. You can also read more of the Education Category blog post.

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