SmileTutor Blog General Others What Causes Mind Blanks During Exams?

What Causes Mind Blanks During Exams?

[Adobe Stock]

Many of us are familiar with the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE), O levels, A levels, or even the end of years (EOYs).

During these examinations, you might have experienced or heard of ‘blanking out’ or ‘going mind blank’. This frightful occurrence is when students forget everything they’ve learnt while sitting for the exam.

What are they? Why do they happen? What causes them? Let us explore the answers to these questions and how you can deal with mind blanks.

What are Mind Blanks?

[Smart Vocab]

Mind blanks – during exams, are lapses in memory that result from a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Usually, this ‘fight-or-flight’ response occurs during frantic moments that typically happen during exams.

During this memory lapse, students think and recall nothing for a moment. This moment can last for the entirety of the paper and it greatly hinders their performance during the exam, causing many to either not complete the paper or score badly.

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After all, they can’t recall anything they’ve studied or revised, so they cannot answer questions in the exam. Sometimes, these mind blanks also cause students to panic and feel anxious, making them unable to think or concentrate on the paper.

What Causes Them?


But what causes this phenomenon? Well, many factors lead to mind blanks. Here are some reasons why students experience mind blanks during exams:

1. Anxiety

Commonly known as test anxiety, it interferes with students’ memory and performance. This is because it impairs their ability to think and concentrate.

2. Stress

When under severe levels of stress, students may experience paralysing anxiety. This is when the higher executive areas of the brain don’t function, which leads to mind blanks.

3. Lack of sleep

Recent studies show that the lack of sleep or sleep deprivation causes memory lapses because it disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Thus causing mind blanks during the exam.

Of course, students may have other reasons for encountering mind blanks, but these three are the leading causes of mind blanks during exams.

How to Prevent It?


How can we prevent our students from experiencing mind blanks? This affects their academic performance and their confidence too! Don’t worry, I have a few tips to keep mind blanks at bay!

Get enough sleep

Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of mind blanks during exams, so students, make sure that you get sufficient rest, especially in the days leading up to the exam!

This helps you to not blank out during the exam because it improves your overall focus and concentration! It also improves your memory and keeps you bright and alert.

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If you are a parent, you can also help your child with this! Just remind them to sleep early the night before the exam and help them create a consistent sleep schedule.

Don’t cram last minute

To lower the risk of mind blanks, students should reduce anxiety levels on the exam day. They can do this by not cramming and mugging at the last minute. Not only will this make memorising information and key points easier, but it also makes them more reassured.

When students start their revisions earlier, they can take more time to memorise and fully ingrain the information into their memory, making it easier to remember their revision so they won’t be too worried.

If you are a tutor, you can help your student start their revisions early! Just give them more lessons to revise, clarify their doubts, and practise doing practice questions. You can also assign them homework like practice papers or test questions.

Practise papers in a test environment

This brings me to my next point. If you’re a student, you might find that being in an exam hall can be stressful and pressurising. It is unfamiliar and makes you vulnerable to mind blanks so one way to counter this is to practise doing test papers in a test environment.

This helps you to feel more relaxed and comfortable during your exam. This is because this ‘simulation’ prepares you for the pressure and environment you’d face then for example, the time limit, the stress, and pacing yourself, it lets you experience and get used to them.

If you are a tutor or parent, encourage your student or child to do this. Give them a space similar to one they would get during the exam to practise doing their past year’s papers. Be there for them by timing them and acting like an invigilator.

Revise Revise Revise

Revising properly gives students a sense of confidence and reassurance on the day of the exam. This means they are less likely to feel stressed and anxious, lowering the risk of mind blanks.

How can they revise? Here are some ways they can do that:
1. Do practice papers
2. Familiarise themselves with their ten-year series (TYS)
3. Go through their notes and understand the various concepts and key points

With adequate revision, students are more familiar with the topics tested and the questions that might come out during the exam. This gives them more confidence and helps them feel more reassured, preventing mind blanks.


[Angela Brooks]

No student wants to experience mind blanks because it affects their confidence, grades, and it throws all the effort put into revision down the drain, not to mention how downright depressing it can be.

As long as students keep calm and follow these tips, they’re less likely to experience mind blanks. Let us know in the comments if you have any other tips!

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Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.