Food for thought.
Friend of the Studying With Dyslexia Blog, Sarah Guest has kindling contributed this article about preparing for exams.
As a dyslexia assessor and tutor in Chester Sarah supports many students through their studies and I know how passionate she is about that work. It is always exciting for me to receive a contribution from her because she gives advice that really helps.
Exam season is fast approaching and those of you sitting exams this summer are likely to be well underway with your main revision. So, I thought I’d share some of the research I’ve been doing lately into some little ‘tricks’ you can add to your routine to become a bit more ‘mind-friendly’ and help our memory out…
Our brains are made up of billions of cells called neurons. Each neuron can put out any number of ‘tentacles’ to link up with other neurons. Chemical and electrical signals containing information are sent and received along these tentacles, jumping across the tiny gap to the next tentacle. As you know, water is an excellent conductor of electricity, which is why our brains are made up of around 73% water.
We need to keep the electrical sparks flying and connecting so keep it hydrated by drinking water throughout your study time – and don’t forget to take a bottle of water into your exam too…just remember to pace yourself otherwise you’ll be needing a loo break half way through!
“We are much more than what we eat, but what we eat can help us to be much more than what we are.” (Adelle Davis, an American author and nutritionist)
As anyone who has ever sat through a meeting/lecture that’s running close to lunchtime knows – you can’t concentrate or think straight when you’re hungry. There’s a whole wealth of articles out there about which foods are the ‘super food’ of the moment; so here’s my small contribution relating to helping memory.
· Apples, blueberries, strawberries and grapes (to name just a few) are all good sources of antioxidants. Antioxidents help slow down the aging of cells, keeping them stronger for longer. So have the fruit bowl handy when you’re revising to keep your brain cells in peak condition.
· Chicken, eggs and bananas all help increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that gives those neurons more energy to work faster and more efficiently and is also linked to our levels of motivation. A chicken omelette for lunch would be a great way to refuel your brain, while a banana makes a great snack to eat just before an exam.
· Almonds, cashews, peanuts and pumpkin seeds are all rich in magnesium, which is something of a ‘super mineral’. It’s been linked with alertness, motivation, concentration and memory. Combine it with your fruit bowl above to give a mind-friendly boost while revising.
· Finally – and possibly my favourite – dark chocolate! There have been studies recently (2016) that suggest the chemicals in dark chocolate (flavonoids) can help the minds ability to form memories. This includes consolidating memories (i.e. revising) and also improving ‘working memory’ (being able to hold information for a short period of time). Plus, chocolate is known to release endorphins – the happy hormone – making it an excellent choice to relax you just before an exam!
Have you ever tried to remember something during a conversation, a name or place for example, only to wake up in the middle of the night with the answer? Infuriating, isn’t it! Well, it turns out there’s some science behind this phenomenon. A good night’s sleep is as crucial to our brain function as food and water.
Studies suggest that a typical adult needs between 7 – 9 hours sleep, with an adolescent needing around 9 – 9.5 hours. The brain reviews and processes the day’s information during this time – which is why you can seem to randomly wake with an answer to a conversation you had hours ago. In terms of studying, you are more likely to remember something if you ‘sleep on it’ and allow your brain to process and store it in your long-term memory. You will also be fresher and more alert on the day of the exam after a good night’s sleep, meaning you are likely to perform much better.
Given that most of us are more alert in the mornings, a good pattern for revision would be; Morning for learning, afternoon/ evening for reviewing, night for processing.
So grab a glass of water, tuck into some fruit ‘n’ nut chocolate and have that early night you’ve been promising yourself; you’ll find your mind starts working with you rather than battling against you!
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