Have you ever studied for a test and felt prepared only to have your mind seem blank when the test was in front of you? If it hasn’t happened to you, you are one of the lucky few that haven’t had this experience.
Multiple things can contribute to such and occurrence. However, the way the information is connected in your brain is often a significant contributor to the mind going blank.
Often, this occurs because of the environment in which a person studies. The person may have sprawled out on their bed, put on their headphones, and listened to music while they studied. This helped them tune out the world around them and focus on the information that they were studying. They may have reviewed the materials for class and studied until they dropped. By the time they finished, the person may have been confident that they would land a high score on the test.
The next day they sat down at their desk confident that they were well prepared. However, when they looked down at the test, panic set in. They felt confused as everything on the test looked like a foreign language. “How could this happen?” the person asked themselves. After all, they had studied for hours and thought they had everything memorized.
The issue in this situation likely arose because of the drastic change in environment from a comfortable relaxed situation with music to a silent environment sitting in a hard uncomfortable chair. The pathways to the studied information were new and fragile. They had not been reinforced enough times in various situations to truly imprint and create strong connections. Therefore, they were difficult to retrieve in a different setting.
At this point, the situation often worsens because anxiety sets in further hindering recall. By the end of class, the person who studied and began the day with confidence in their ability to do well on the test may be worrying if they will receive a passing grade.
This story is only one sample of the many reasons that a person may not recall information in a particular situation. Our memories are held within a very complex, intertwined system of connections. Therefore, recall can be sensitive to a variety of factors. Fortunately, we have established multiple ways to access much of the information allowing us to retrieve the information in various situations.
The next time you are having difficulty retrieving some piece of information – a name, how to do some task, or where you left your car keys – try remembering the context of when, where, and how you learned or last knew that information. You just might find that you can access that information after all!