Schreiber Science

Anna Fox, Staff Writer

Imagine yourself reading a test question, recognizing that you know the answer, but not being able to reach in and retrieve it from your brain.  What do you do?  Skip the question and come back to it?  Probably.  Yet, after sitting and staring at the question for minutes on end, you hear the teacher call time and you begin to panic.  Emphatically, you scribble down or circle an answer.  That’s it, you have had enough. You hand in your test and rush out of the room, aggravated.
Suddenly as you are walking down the hallway to your next class, the answer pops into your mind. 
If you have experienced this before, have no fear, because you are certainly not the only one. Don’t worry because there is a scientific reason behind this phenomenon. 
Research has shown that if you work to focus on a particular subject, certain neural networks become blocked.  These neural networks may include those that a student needs to remember an answer on an exam.  This same process explains why students often miss simple answers that under different circumstances, would seem obvious to them.  According to Barbra Oakley, an engineering professor at Oakland University, the best way to avoid this issue is to skip the troubling problem, and later go back to it.  By taking a break, the brain will more likely retrieve the needed information.  Another suggestion that will help avoid this common problem is to get at least six hours of sleep per night.  Yes, at least six hours.  When people fall asleep, their brain cells shrink as the cell’s metabolic toxins, created during waking hours, wash away.  By receiving enough sleep, the brain has more time to cleanse itself of these toxic materials.  Thus, it is fresh and well prepared to function the next day.
When studying for a test, there are certain approaches that have been proven successful in increasing information retention thus allowing students to achieve better grades.  One approach is to learn through repetition.  This can be accomplished through recopying notes or making flashcards.  Another method is to apply comfortable and familiar ways of thinking to weak areas. For example, this could mean that if a student’s brain works logically and mathematically, they should attempt to stimulate this type of thought process when studying other subjects such as language and history.  Finally, exercising in the middle of a studying session has been shown to increase studying efficiency.  Exercise provides the brain with adequate time to absorb the studied information as well as allow neurons in the brain to grow and survive.  Is this enough stimulation for you to get off your laptop and do some jumping jacks?
So the next time that you find yourself stuck on a question, remember, do not freak out.  Stressing yourself out only distracts the brain from its search to find the correct answer.  In these situations, you should always remain calm, and prepare yourself in advance by sleeping enough and exercising regularly.  Now, go get those good grades.