Exams tend to be an incredibly stressful, anxiety-inducing time for most students, even when they’re academically thriving. Although a certain amount of stress should be expected, too much can result in poor test performance. So what can you do to help minimize stress — regulating your anxiety levels to a more manageable degree? What if there was a pill you could take to make you smarter and help you crush exams? Chances are, you’d feel a lot less overwhelmed when it’s time to take your tests.
Effects of Exams on the Brain
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what exams do to the brain and why they’re such an essential part of your education. Research has shown that exams help deepen learning in terms of allowing you to better recall facts and information. Essentially, when you’re garnering various areas of knowledge and you have to mentally search through your memory to answer a question, you’re making that information easier to remember at a later date.
3 Main Cognitive Levels of the Brain
There are 3 main cognitive levels of the brain that work together during an academic exam of any sort:
- Recall is a measure of the effectiveness of your memory. This allows you to recall specific concepts, theories, and principles throughout the duration of the test.
- Application is responsible for allowing you to connect pieces of data with theories, concepts, and principles to situational questions.
- Analysis combines the recall and application functions to help you solve problems – planning, identifying, and comparing outcomes in a critical manner.
Although these 3 main cognitive levels of the brain are in overdrive while you’re taking a test, you may find yourself slipping up and “going blank” part way through. This is a common issue for students taking tests.
Why Do Some People Struggle with Exams?
If you struggle with exams, you’re not alone. As mentioned above, “going blank” is a common issue. So what’s the deal? Ultimately, it all comes back to the trifecta within the brain — the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and prefrontal cortex. Why does the trifecta make you go blank? Essentially, your brain suddenly perceives the exam as a threat. The stakes are high and there’s a lot to lose, so the stress hormone known as norepinephrine starts flowing. This essentially puts a damper on neural firing that takes place in the prefrontal cortex.
As this happens, neural connections are disrupted because cortisol is coursing into the hippocampus. It’s all part of your brain’s natural stress response, but unfortunately, this natural stress response makes it incredibly difficult to complete the exam on-time. Struggling to rack your brain for answers to the questions you’ve studied a thousand times is frustrating.
How to Relieve Stress During Exams
If you’re looking to relieve stress during exams, there are quite a few ways to keep calm, and ultimately, prevent those annoying mind blanks. Here are a few tips to help you relax and prepare:
- Practice some de-stressing techniques: A range of de-stressing techniques can be used to relax and prepare for exams, such as deep breathing, meditation, positive thinking, and more.
- Speak with a professional: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to speak with a professional about the way you’re feeling. Your school will likely be able to connect you with someone.
- Make sure you’re fully prepared: As long as you’re studying on a regular basis, you should be able to remind yourself that you’ll be okay. Spend some extra time studying and get proper sleep at night.
- Keep yourself hydrated at all times: Staying hydrated can actually help improve your ability to concentrate, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. In addition, take walks around to get the blood flowing to your brain.
- Try nootropics to improve mental performance: Nootropics are a natural or synthetic substance that enables you to improve your mental performance — helping to boost memory, motivation, creativity, and more.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that studying is important, but in many cases, going into the exam relaxed will give you the best possible outcome. If studying constantly is stressing you out, don’t hesitate to take a break now and then. Go for a walk, call a friend or sit and breath.
What are Nootropics?
Nootropics are a form of substance that’s said to increase cognition, memory, focus, and other areas of the brain. The term was coined in the 1970s when piracetam, a well-known drug, was found to enhance memory. Although some nootropics are short-term — lasting a few hours, some are taken consistently to increase cognitive health over the course of a few weeks or months. Nowadays, over 80 different substances are classified as nootropics, including but not limited to:
- Choline sources
Benefits of Nootropics
So how do nootropics actually work? What do they do to the brain to help improve cognitive health?
- Enhance energy: Many nootropics help support the production of cellular energy within neurons and brain cells.
- Improve blood flow: Many nootropics improve the circulation of glucose, ketones or oxygen to the brain.
- Reduce inflammation: Many nootropics neutralize free radicals and eliminate toxins from within the brain to reduce inflammation.
- Impact neurotransmitters: Many nootropics impact levels of various neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and other important chemicals.
Consider this… Approximately 20% of the body’s energy goes to the brain, and when brain energy levels are low, cognitive abilities slow down. That’s why nootropics can be so effective when it comes to improving your ability to take tests. Essentially, they boost brain energy to help you process questions more effectively.
Nootropics that Boost Brain Energy
As mentioned above, many nootropics boost brain energy — a major advantage for any nervous student looking to ace their exams. Some examples of nootropics that boost brain energy include:
- Caffeine: Who doesn’t enjoy a good cup of coffee or the odd energy drink now and then? Caffeine is one of the most popular nootropics. It stimulates the central nervous system; increasing energy throughout the brain to help us power through even the toughest days.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine: Acetyl-L-carnitine, also known as ALCAR, has been shown to boost brain energy as it helps move fats into the mitochondria of cells wherein they’re burned and turned into energy. This typically increases energy production in the brain cells found within the frontal cortex.
- Creatine: Creatine is often used in the body-building world to boost muscle mass while enhancing performance while working out. Most people don’t realize that creatine is actually a great nootropic. It helps to increase the amount of phosphocreatine in the brain — improving cognitive functioning as brain energy is enhanced.
Choosing the Right Nootropic for You
When it comes to choosing a nootropic, do your research and talk to your doctor. There are two different categories: naturally occurring substances, such as phenibut or creatine, and man-made substances, such as over-the-counter supplements like noopept. Ultimately, there’s a reason nootropics are commonly referred to as “smart drugs,” so take some time to consider what you’re looking to achieve and go from there!
Fortunately, there’s no need to be a genius when you’re going into exams. There are many fantastic nootropics available to help you ace any test! If you’re struggling with nerves around exam time, try a nootropic to help you unlock your cognitive potential.