Recently, I’m coming across questions similar to this one: “I see fellow students learning their subjects very easily, but me, I seem to have to put a lot of effort into learning things. For example, any concept for me is hard to grasp lately, and I have to study long hours to make learning material clearer. It’s like my memory is failing me. I have OCD, and I’m wondering if this plays a part in the mental blocks I’ve been experiencing.”
Okay, let’s figure this out by first considering memory. Psychology suggests that OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) may be seen as a result of an imbalance between long-term memory and short-term memory processes. Short-term memory relies on auditory and visual codes for storing information. Longer-term memories are the result of shorter-term memories which go through a process known as consolidation, and involves rehearsal and meaningful association. *
Obsessive compulsive disorder has two essential characteristics which are obsessions and compulsions. The first has a person struggling with intrusive thoughts that might be about religious, sexual or harming thoughts or contamination, symmetry and responsibility. The corresponding compulsions would include praying, reassurance, checking, also washing repeatedly and aligning objects.
What is rehearsal and meaningful association?
First, rehearsal is the re-assessment of information you’ve previously learned in furtherance of a later need to recall it. Meaningful association relates to the significance of what has been learned and correlates highly with other dimensions such as how well you form images in your mind and retaining them. Also essential, is (1) having a good command of the language you use when reading and delivering specific information, and (2) listening acutely to audible teaching and then recalling how this was expressed; for example, how a tutor conveys meaning by the tone of their voice, their choice of language, vocabulary, gestures… and so on. *
Now when it comes to OCD and the ability to retain information, it could be that the natural process of consolidation, noted in the first paragraph, is interrupted by intrusive thoughts and corresponding rituals, and more likely ruminations. For example, the brain’s thalamus acts as a kind of “relay station” whereby motor and sensory information (except smell) are received by it and projected to the cerebral cortex (responsible for the so-called higher mental processes of language, thinking and problem-solving – Arthur S. Reber). Dwelling on the thoughts holds you back on your studies, yet you erroneously think there is something wrong with your memory or that you lack the aptitude to learn well.
Given the nature of its role, it makes sense how the thalamus loops the same information to and from the cerebral cortex in those who have OCD. For many, this feels like a circle of never-ending thoughts with little brain space to study. Yet despite what you think, your aptitude to learn well is intact and your memory is very good.
Even still, worry about failing to absorb study material and thinking you haven’t fully grasped the concept of a specific subject can then bring on all kinds of threat-related thoughts in which prolonged ruminations further affect your study. For example, dwelling on negative thoughts like, “What about my future prospects?” “What if I fail my exam?” and “If I’m not able to study and recall information, what will my point in life be?”
So what can you do when OCD intrudes on your studies?
Well, first of all, when you are challenged, remember to…
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Student Tip Sheet – 7 Ways to Beat OCD and Pass Exams
HALF-PRICE SPECIAL OFFER: Carol Edwards brings fresh ideas to a student's laptop screen, or anyone who wants to help a student free their brain to think more clearly and confidently about their studies. The attention is on students who are troubled with obsessions and compulsions whereby one of the questions the author often gets asked, is: "I see fellow students learning their subjects very easily, but me, I seem to have to put a lot of effort into learning things. For example, any concept for me is hard to grasp lately, and I have to study long hours to make learning material clearer. It's like my memory is failing me. I have OCD, and I'm wondering if this plays a part in the mental blocks I've been experiencing." Carol Edwards answers such questions by discussing 7 ways to help students, which include deep sleep for improving memory, chunking for better problem-solving, tackling "just in case" scenarios, getting better at decision-making, and more! This material provides clarity for the student and comes with short question sections to strengthen the learning objectives. Access to this document (with a unique password into the learning zone) gives a student not only the chance to engage with the author but also gets them her valued appraisal of the 7 question sections that accompany the document. This is to build student confidence where they can get back to healthy study. This special offer document costs just £6.24, giving one month's access to the buyer. After the password link expires, it can be purchased again, and the buyer resumes as before. Individual students or groups around the world welcome - just click on the item number below to add more people and before paying the adjusted fee. Please allow 1-2 days for your WordPress code to arrive in your inbox. Thank you.
By Carol Edwards 2016. Updated 2019.
* Source of reference: The Human Memory