Friday, February 17, 2012

Exams - Avoiding the Decision Fatigue Trap

Young Cambodians doing an exam to be admitted ...Image via WikipediaBy Phillip Gabbard

Have you ever slogged your way through a seemingly endless test, answering question after question, only to find your brain so exhausted that the final (and perhaps most important questions) were answered with nothing more than random guesses? Of course the final score reflected your random answers.

There is a reason for this fall off in your concentration during a test. It is due to a phenomenon called "Decision Fatigue".

It has been shown that the process of making decision after decision gradually erodes the brain's ability to concentrate. We all have a limit on how long we can concentrate on a subject before decision fatigue sets in and we start jumping on the easiest answer. This applies to many areas of life, not only test taking. Anyone who has had a long, drawn out argument with a spouse (which ended with a decision they regretted) can attest to this.

This article will provide information to avoid decision fatigue during a test and improve your score.

The good news is that we can improve the number and quality of decisions over time, making decision fatigue less likely to occur. By pushing a bit more each day, it is possible to increase the number of decisions that you can complete before exhaustion.

The other bit of good news is that there are a number of techniques you can use to avoid or delay decision fatigue.

To cut down on decision fatigue during an exam, follow the below rules:

1. Take your test refreshed

Don't schedule an exam late in the day after you are already fatigued. If your brain is only good for 500 decisions a day, taking a test late in the day is like taking a car into the Sahara desert with only half a tank of gas.

2. Never schedule more than one exam a day

The second exam is sure to suffer.

3. No dieting on test day

Research has shown that low blood sugar has an effect on the number of decisions you can make. During my test taking phase, I would swing by the donut shop prior to the test, get the two donut and coffee special, and top off my sugar tank before taking the test. That was the only time I allowed myself a donut rush.

It paid off in two ways, I got my sugar and caffeine fix and I got a reward for taking another exam. Think of this as topping off your tank before heading into the Sahara. If allowed, you can also bring in a drink or piece of candy to keep your blood sugar up during test.

4. Not all questions are created equal

In other words, some questions will not be worth your time or effort. If a question requires a calculation of 25 steps to complete, you are better off skipping that question and continuing. If the type of test you are taking allows you to backtrack, you can always return to it later. Backtracking this way, if allowed, will also let you use the knowledge presented by latter questions to answer a question from earlier in the exam.

5. Know the material

Unfortunately, all of the tricks in the world (even mine) won't eliminate the importance of being prepared. You should be ready to answer the majority of your exam's questions without thinking. If you can arrive at the answer quickly and easily, that means that you have more decision juice to spend on the other problems.

There you have 5 ways to avoid the trap of decision fatigue when taking a college exam.

Phil Gabbard is a world traveling engineer who has worked in Europe, Asia, the Mid-East and the US for more years than he would care to admit. While working in remote locations, he has developed various ways to effectively study, complete college degrees, and continue his education. He also emphasizes goal setting for self improvement and time management techniques.

He has collected his writings at his website: Please visit his site and download one of his free reports or subscribe to his newsletter.
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