With the holidays soon approaching, your mind might be full of the good times ahead: partying, getting gifts and having good times with family and friends.
But there’s one thing that might be getting in the way: midterms, exams and regular schoolwork.
Beat the stress of the season with a good study plan and some tips. In this article, we’re going to share 10 scientifically-backed ways to enhance your brainpower, increase your productivity and help you ace those exams so you can enjoy the holidays with less stress.
1. Up the Omegas
Super-charge your brain with foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, like fish, nuts, and olive oil. Research has shown that eating these foods boosts your brain and reduces anxiety, which is the ideal state you need to be in to perform your best.(1)
2. Optimize your brainwaves
Have you heard of binaural beats? These are sounds you can listen to in your headphones that have been shown to positively affect cognitive processes.(2)
Certain sound frequencies alter your brainwaves and can move you into an “alpha” state. This helps you focus better, reduce background noise and retain more information.
Binaural beats are everywhere on Youtube. Here’s an effective one with music that will drown out background noise and help you concentrate: https://youtu.be/vLEek3I3wac
3. Mix up theanine and caffeine
Combining a theanine supplement with your coffee is reported to give you the stimulation benefits of coffee with the added boost of the anti-anxiety effects of theanine.
Studies have shown that using these two chemicals can improve attention and focus, while reducing any nervous system effects caused by too much coffee.(3)
4. Break up the work
Research has demonstrated that retaining information is more effective if you break up your work into small pieces, and focus on learning it in stages.(4)
For example, instead of trying to memorize all the capitals in the world at once, it’s best to focus on one continent at a time. This also uses your powers of visualization, which are essential in recalling information when you need it the most (like during test time!).
Meditation is an age-old mindfulness practice that has been used to calm the mind and increase focus.
Modern-day research is proving what the monks have known for years, that meditation can relax your mind and improve your brain function(5), help you learn more effectively and perform at your best.
An easy meditation used by one of our staffers is called “Box Meditation”. To do it you inhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold the breath out for four counts.
Try it during study breaks or while waiting for an exam to start. It’s a truly versatile meditation you can use any time you feel stressed out, fearful or frustrated.
6. Switch up your subjects
In his book “Think, Dabble, Doodle, Try” (Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Tinker-Dabble-Doodle-Try-Unfocused/dp/1101883650), Dr. Srini Pillay emphasizes that it’s better to switch up tasks instead of forcing ourselves to focus on one thing for a long period of time.
Just like our bodies, our brains can get tired. Think about going to the gym. Would you do squats for an hour straight? Of course not, we all mix up exercises to give our bodies a complete workout for the best results.
The same goes for your brain. Switch up what you’re learning for maximum results.
For more information and other great brain tips, visit Dr. Pillay’s site at https://drsrinipillay.com/.
7. Quiz yourself
Doing the same thing over and over again can get repetitive and boring. So try switching it up by using tools like online flashcards and self-quizzes to test yourself between readings.
Studies have shown that testing yourself is very effective for retaining information, and recalling it when you need it most.(6)
It also helps you practice similar questions you may see on your tests. There are lots of online resources with pre-made questions that will help you get prepared. Here is one of our favourites: https://www.cram.com/
8. Write it out
Instead of staring at screens, studies have shown that note-taking by hand is much more effective for information recall than taking notes on a computer.(7)
One of our staff members can back this up. While studying accounting in high school and university she found the subject matter kind of boring, and for five years straight wrote the concepts out by hand before exams and always passed them.
Take advantage of the mind-body connection and write things out. Along with the tips above, your chances of recalling the information go up significantly when you use more than just your eyes to learn.
9. Take a break and work out
Studying involves “taking in” a lot of information, so taking a break to “work out” your energy is effective in balancing your brain chemistry.(8)
Aerobic exercise, yoga and lifting weights are great ways to get rid of stress and excess nervous energy, balance your brain and recalibrate your focus.
10. Get some sleep
A good night’s rest is essential to balance your hormones and recalibrate your brain.
Humans operate on what’s called a “circadian rhythm”, meaning that we are programmed by nature to be active during the day and resting at night.
Studies have shown that our cognition is highest when we are well-rested.(9)
So rather than defy nature, work with it by using your brain when the time is right and getting rest when you need it the most.
The last word
In addition to improving memory, focus and information recall, these science-backed tips will also improve your overall health because a healthy brain benefits the body, and vice-versa.
Good nutrition, adequate rest and exercise offer the foundation for optimum brain-body function. Anyone looking to up their study game can add in special strategies like breaking up your work, switching up subjects, writing out concepts and meditating.
These will give you the edge you need to improve your focus, increase attention span and retain the information you need to ace those exams and fully enjoy the holidays!
- Omega-3 fatty acid study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16491653
- Binaural beats & brain enhancement: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4428073
- L-theanine & caffeine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26869148
- Breaking up work into small pieces: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22411798
- Meditation study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312586/
- Self-testing and quizzes study: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-17631-003
- Note-taking study: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-27380-001
- Exercise and brain-balancing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110
- Circadian rhythm and cognition: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22529774