When was the last time you thought, “I studied this! I should know how to do it!”? For me, it was sometime within the past week. I knew that this problem was not beyond my reach! Meanwhile, the clock was ticking away, and all I could focus on was the fact that I could not remember something that I should have been able to remember.
That horrible, sinking feeling is universal: we have all felt it before and—unfortunately—we are all going to feel it again. How can we deal with this?
What does the “But!” feeling really mean?
When you catch yourself thinking
- But I studied this…
- But I should know how to do this…
- If I just had a little more time, I am sure I could figure it out…
- I have already invested so much time—I do not want to give up now…
… all these really mean is I do not actually know how to do the problem right now. If I did, I would not feel any of the “But!” feelings. I would just do the problem.
Our brains are not perfect. Sometimes we are going to forget or stumble over something that we really do know. (Also, sometimes we are going to think we should know something that we really do not know as well as we thought we did.)
Change your response
We are never going to get rid of the “But!” feeling, so the remedy here is not to try to train ourselves to lose it. Rather, the remedy is to recognize that we are feeling this way and change how we respond.
When you feel the “But!” feeling, start treating the problem like one that you know you do not know how to do. Do not give into the feeling; it is trying to distract you and cause you to waste time. From now on, “But… but… but…” = I do not know what I am doing.
If I have already used up all my time, I guess randomly and move on. If I still have some time left, and I have some ideas about how I might make an educated guess, then I try to do that for about 30 seconds or so. Then, I pick and move on.
Still struggling with the idea of cutting yourself off like this? Read my mind-set article, In It To Win It, to understand why letting go on a few problems here and there is not really a big deal. Here is another resource for time management. (We all have at least minor problems with time management on a test like the GMAT.)