It’s that time of year again. The sun may be shining outside, but you’re stuck either in the library or in a hot room surrounded by the sound of furious scribbling. That’s right, exam season has arrived.
Whether you’ve got two or 20 exams, the struggle is real and you need to do whatever you can to be totally ready – no matter how much you might want to binge-watch Netflix. This doesn’t just mean studying until your brain feels about ready to burst or getting to bed early, as other things throughout your day can also impact how well you do.
One of these is the food you eat. Yes, it turns out that eating right can actually help you learn, no matter how much we might wish our mums were wrong about this. Eating the wrong foods can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, which isn’t great at any point, let alone when you’re revising or about to sit an exam.
Instead, you want to be eating foods that boost your brain, give you energy and help you feel full for longer so you don’t end up thinking about how hungry you are partway through a test. To keep you going this exam season and make sure you’re a bit closer to that A, here’s what you should be eating:
Your brain needs energy to keep it going, but more importantly, it needs sustained levels of energy. Sugary foods give you a quick burst and then leave you about ready for a nap, which isn’t the best option.
Instead, add some wholegrains to your diet for slow-release brain power. Specifically, you want to eat low-GI wholegrains as these release glucose into your blood at a slow rate, ensuring you get energy that lasts so your brain doesn’t start to stall.
This means adding brown wholegrains, like rice, pasta, cereals and granary bread to your diet, especially before a study session or exam.
If you like to have a snack at the ready when you’re revising, steer clear of sweets and biscuits and have some pumpkin seeds nearby instead. These little seeds are full of zinc – as are other seeds but pumpkin ones contain a lot more – which is important when it comes to keeping your brain agile.
Zinc helps to enhance your memory, which is ideal for remembering all those facts and figures, while also helping your thinking skills. While they aren’t going to suddenly give you a super brain, they could help you retain a bit more information without feeling like your head is going to burst.
Oily fish – like mackerel, salmon, sardines and trout – are brilliant during revision periods and on exam days as they are full of omega-3 fatty acids. These are really important for helping your brain work at the highest level possible, especially as they are natural so your body can put them to use straight away.
Keeping your levels of omega-3 fatty acids high can aid your memory, allow you to better handle stress and means your brain can produce more of the happy hormone serotonin, which can mean you’re in the best place mentally for an exam.
While you can get omega-3 fatty acids in supplements, walnuts, soybeans and flaxseed, it is most effective when it comes from oily fish.
We couldn’t put this list together without something sweet on it, could we? While you might be jumping for joy that exam season means you’ve got an excuse to eat chocolate, it is only dark chocolate that is low in sugar that is beneficial for your brain.
Dark chocolate is actually full of great stuff to gear your brain up for your exams. Not only does it contain small amounts of caffeine to increase mental alertness, it is also rich in magnesium, which helps you to relax and ensure you feel positive.
You literally only need a few squares a day to benefit and any more than that could trigger a sugar crash that negates the benefits, so stick with the less is more approach.
Put that cup of coffee or regular tea down and switch it for green tea instead, which is a much better option when you need a boost. Regular tea and coffee deliver caffeine to wake you up, but this is released all at once, which means you’ll soon start to flag once it wears off.
Instead, green tea releases caffeine slowly due to the fact that it contains L-theanine. This means you’re better able to stay alert throughout the day without the threat of crashing smack in the middle of an exam.
Yes, we know this ends up on every list of ‘healthy foods and drinks you should have’, but that alone should tell you how important it is. Your body basically runs on water so you definitely need to be keeping the tank topped up.
Not getting enough water means your brain – and the rest of your body – can’t function properly. This means you won’t be as focused, won’t be able to answers questions and quickly and won’t have the memory capacity you need for exam season.
Now you’ve got the food sorted, you just need to crack on and ace those exams!