During exam and revision time I needed all the brain power I could get.
A single mark could make the difference between a good grade and an ok grade.
So before my exams I had a look at a few ways that I could boost my brain power. I don’t know which of these tips had the biggest impact, but I felt focused, thought I was working efficiently, and I remembered case names much easier than before.
I don’t want to claim that they these methods will 100% work, or that something I mention is completely scientifically proven. All I can say is this; it seemed to work for me. These tips should work for any sort of revision or exam preparation. I believe they are especially important for law students with such a massive quantity of information to remember.
1. Caffeine / Liquids
We all know that coffee helps keep you awake. It binds to certain receptors in the brain preventing neural activity slowing down. This is why we feel more awake when drinking coffee. It also increases dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine can play a role in many brain functions such as cognition, memory and learning.
There have also been studies which suggest caffeine can directly increase short term memory [source]. So a cup of coffee before revision can really help increase alertness – especially if you’re feeling tired. Don’t overdo it though. Drinking so much that you can’t sleep isn’t going to be beneficial!
I nearly always had a coffee before revision, a lecture, or exam. In a way I got used to learning when I was drinking coffee. This was great when I was feeling unproductive – a cup really kick started my revision.
But you must stay hydrated – not just on coffee! Even when you lose 2% of normal water volume the impact is noticeable – you get sleepy, headaches, and lose the ability to concentrate. But it makes sense to always be well hydrated so you’re always performing at an optimal rate. Don’t even get close to the stage when you’re starting to lose concentration.
I suffer from a horrible illness I like to call hangover brain. Essentially it means when I’m hungover I can barely master a belt, let alone the finer points of the Trustee Act. So keep your alcohol intake to a minimum the night before your revision & exams.
Unfortunately the The Buffalo Theory just isn’t true. The Buffalo Theory states that a herd can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. When the herd is hunted the slowest buffalo at the back are killed. This means the herd speed is improved overall by the predator killing the weakest & slowest buffalo. Likewise alcohol first kills the weakest & slowest brain cells, therefore improving the overall speed & efficiency of the brain. I would love to use this theory as justification for having a drink! Unfortunately it’s little more than a joke.
2. Multi Vitamins
Being a student you’re probably not going to have the best diet. Come exam time you’ll have even less time to eat and nutrition will get pushed down your list of priorities even further.
I frequently got cheap take away food on the way home from the law library just because it would save time. Cooking just took too long! Hopefully you’re a much more efficient cook that me but if you’re not there’s something you can do.
Be on the lookout for multi vitamin tablets which can help provide the body with the nutrients it needs while your diet isn’t that great. You don’t want to starve your brain of any key nutrients. They’re not too expensive. You should be able to pick some up from your pharmacy for around £6. But remember that they will never be as good as eating a proper balanced diet.
3. Brain Foods
The following foods should have some positive impact on your brain. These foods may also help reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease too:
- Blueberries – Research suggests they can help improve short term memory loss. They can also help boost concentration for up to 5 hours.
- Spinach – Spinach contains vitamin K which is thought to protect brain function. And it’s again a food which some studies suggest can improve memory and learning abilities.
- Salmon – Salmon and other fatty fish are rich in Omega3 fatty acids which are one of the building blocks of brain tissue. In addition it can also boost your mood. A tasty way to beat the depression blues.
- Chocolate – Dark chocolate contains flavonoids which is linked to brain health; especially memory storage. Apples, sprouts and strawberries also contain flavonoids.
4. Sleep & Rest
We all reach stage where we can’t learn any more and need a break. Try to take a break at least once an hour for 5-10 mins. Do something different. This will keep you refreshed and ready to constantly absorb new information. Research states that we’re better at remembering incomplete tasks or topics. Humans don’t like unfinished tasks so our brain lingers on the unfinished topic more than a finished one. So even if you feel slightly uncomfortable taking a break half way through reading a case, it could actually be beneficial. [Source]
Take a break from this article with a game of Pacman and see if you find it any easier to recall what’s been said so far! (Sorry I just wanted an excuse to put a game on the site!)
Sleep plays major role in our learning process. A good night’s sleep will provide optimal conditions for learning and remembering. You’re going to be doing more harm than good by having 4 hours sleep a night so you can revise more. You’re pretty much useless when sleep deprived. Try and get at least 7-8 hours.
Acquisition, consolidation and recall are the major steps in learning. Research states that consolidation may be done during sleep; it strengthens the neural connections that help memory. [Source] From personal experience I’d agree with this. So many times I remember being useless at remembering a certain case, but then after sleep I had no problem recalling it. The bottom line is that adequate sleep is important for learning and memory. So get enough.
Exercise boosts metabolism, decreases stress and improves mood and attention. It also helps increase circulation throughout the body; that includes the brain too.
This will be especially beneficial if you’re a mature student of 30+. Different parts of the brain age faster than others resulting in blood flow being decreased. By doing exercise you can counter this.
There are more immediate advantages that come about after exercise too. Lots of tests have been done that show after a brisk walk, or exercise on a treadmill, the brain is able to recall information faster. So walk to your exams if you can. Or get there early and take a walk around campus. It will help you burn off some of that nervous energy & stress too. This should put you in the optimal state of mind to sit the exam.
You should be exercising, eating well, staying well hydrated and getting enough sleep anyway. But make sure you pay particular attention to this during exam period. It will do wonders not only for the health of your brain, but also for your state of mind. If you can keep this routine up in your day to day life then it should help you stay sharp and alert with pretty much everything you do.