Whether you’re looking for more brain power in the run up to exams or want to stay sharp in your next work meeting, following these tips to boost brain power can help you study or work more effectively.
1. Get the Right Nutrition
Omega-3s are essential for healthy brain development and function. The importance of these fatty acids becomes most obvious when they’re lacking. People who don’t get enough Omega-3’s in their diet can become demotivated, disinterested, forgetful and may experience low mood, while serious deficiency can lead to an increased risk of developing conditions such as ADD, dyslexia, depression and Alzheimer’s. Cognitune Smarter Health has rated Omega-3 as the number one Brain Booster Supplement. (1)
Our bodies can’t produce Omega-3, so we need to get it through our diet. However, according to an IPSOS/MRBI survey, a massive 89% of Irish people are not consuming enough oily fish (e.g., sardines, anchovies) in their diet, so there is often a need to supplement. If you don’t consume many foods rich in healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil etc., then Eskimo Brain 369 is a good option. Taking 4 capsules daily provides EPA and DHA roughly equivalent to 4 portions of oily fish per week, keeping that brain in tip-top shape into exam time!
2. Set a Schedule
Procrastination is a common problem for people studying for exams. In an age full of distractions, it can be easy to get side-tracked by a funny video (that turns into 10 funny videos!) or noticing a molecule of dust and deciding to Spring Clean the house from top to bottom, all to get away from the books. A good way to avoid this is by creating a schedule or a study plan to manage your time effectively. One thing to note: be realistic. It’s practically impossible to study for 12 hours a day without going crazy! Do you work better early in the morning and take a slump after lunch? Rise and shine an hour earlier and take another hour after lunch to make the most of your time. Draw up a timetable, set aside time for breaks and stick to it.
3. Learn what works for you:
Exam preparation looks different for everyone and we’re becoming more aware that study is not a ‘one size fits all’ concept. Maybe flashcards work for you, maybe they don’t. Maybe you prefer to read your notes aloud while studying. Consider trying one of these 3 methods of study next time you sit down to prepare for an exam:
METHOD 1: SQ3R Method
There are five steps to the SQ3R Method:
- Survey: Skim through the assigned material. Focus on headings, words in bold print and any diagrams.
- Question: Ask yourself questions related to the topic.
- Read: Read the text carefully. As you go, look for answers to your questions.
- Recite: Tell yourself the answers to your questions. Write notes about them, even.
- Review: Go over the material again by rereading the text and reading your notes aloud.
METHOD 2: PQ4R Method
The PQ4R Method involves six steps:
- Preview: Skim the material. Read the titles, headings and other highlighted text.
- Question: Think through questions that pertain to the material.
- Read: As you work through the material, try to find answers to your questions.
- Reflect: Consider whether you have any unanswered questions or new questions.
- Recite: Speak aloud about the things you just read.
- Review: Look over the material one more time.
METHOD 3: THIEVES Method
There are seven pre-reading steps to the THIEVES Method:
- Title: Read the title.
- Headings: Look through the headings.
- Introduction: Skim the intro.
- Every first sentence in a section: Take a look at how each section begins.
- Visuals and vocabulary: Look at the pictures and the words in bold print.
- End questions: Review the questions at the end of the chapter.
- Summary: Read the overview of the text.
4. Organise your space
It is recommended that students work at a dedicated study space away from gadgets, distractions and other people. Having a dedicated study space is important for lots of reasons; it is associated with focus, productivity and learning. Keeping this space specifically for study conditions you to focus and associate this space with the task at hand.
Avoid studying from your bed or in front of the tv if you can. Set up a desk in a well-lit, ventilated, quiet room. Make sure you have a comfortable chair with sufficient back support, at the right height for your desk. Organise your space so that you have everything you need at your disposal: computer, pens, paper, books, calculator… whatever you need to focus and study efficiently. Maybe even add in some green plants to make it more aesthetically pleasing!
5. Preparation is key
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail! Harsh as it may sound, this is good advice. Once you have your schedule organised, prepare what topics you will cover before you dive right in to ensure you’re using your time wisely. Instead of trying to memorise all your notes, prioritize what you’ll study and spend adequate time on each subject. Of course, some areas will require more attention than others, but making sure you are prepared makes managing your time easier.
Exam preparation is also key. Aim to get 8 hours sleep the night before, and eat a good, Omega-3-rich breakfast and drink plenty of water on the day. Make a list of everything you’ll need for the exam the night before: pens, pencils, eraser, calculator, ruler, etc. Make sure you’re not running around last minute like a headless chicken looking for the necessities!
6. Take regular study breaks
If you are stressed, it can be tempting to try and ’work through it’ to try and make the most of your time. Ironically, in most cases, fatigue will make it difficult to concentrate and retain information. Instead, plan to take regular study breaks and stick to them. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recommends studying in one-hour blocks: 50 minutes spent studying with a 10 minute break (3).
Studying can be physically hard on the body, as well as the mind. Getting up and moving around can help re-energize the body, clear the mind, and help reduce stress. Other benefits of exercising during study breaks include (4):
Strengthened memory: Research shows that physical exercise releases proteins in the brain that can actually help improve your memory and cognitive performance. This is because the hippocampus, the area of our brain that is involved with retaining information, is incredibly responsive to these proteins.
Better concentration: When you do any type of intense physical activity, it causes blood to flow to the brain. This in turn fires up your neurons and promotes cell growth, particularly in the hippocampus. This means that just 20 minutes of exercise before studying can improve your concentration and help you focus your learning.
Improved mood: By doing some sort of physical activity, you will be raising your endorphin levels, the body’s famous ‘feel good’ chemical produced by the brain and spinal cord. This chemical will also reduce your stress levels, which will in turn have a number of positive effects on how well your brain functions. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, some regular exercise will keep stress at bay and will help you to maintain a positive mind-set.
Sleep is important for many reasons. In terms of benefits to students, sleep is vital for memory retention and concentration. This is because, during sleep, toxins in the brain are cleared so that brain function can increase. Some other problems associated with limited sleep include:
- Mood swings
- Weakened immune system
- Higher risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
- Increased hunger and weight gain
9. Be accountable
Only you are responsible for yourself. Knowing it’s you who’s accountable should make you more prepared and dedicated to your studies. It might be a good idea to explain to those close to you that you may have less time to spend with them during your studies, and if they are supportive, they should completely understand. We’ve all been in this position! Most importantly, back yourself and believe that you can achieve the best.
10. Go easy on yourself
Finally, go easy on yourself. Studying and exam time can be a stressful and worrying time for many students. Make sure you don’t neglect your mental or physical health. If you are a parent or friend of a student during exam time, maybe check in every now and again. Try to avoid putting any pressure on them and just let them know that you’re there for them if they need you.
Above all else, ask for help if you need it. There are always people who would love to help.