Friday, February 23, 2007

How to fake being smart for short periods of time.

If there is one thing I have learned from all of the testing I have undergone lately, it is how to fake being smart for short amounts of time. That comment is kind of sad in retrospect. I suppose the one thing I have learned should be something about the actual material I have studied...but nope! After running the gauntlet of tests, I now know what to eat before my test, how to brush my teeth, how to spend my free time, even the proper way to shower -- all in the name of boosting my test scores by some nontrivial amount.

Not that I have any sort of special knowledge on being smart, but the first thing you have to know about being smarter for short amounts of time is that the brain works just like a muscle -- it has to be exercised regularly so that it can operate at peak performance. About the worst possible thing you can do for your brain is watch television. Television is too passive -- your brain just sits there and absorbs it. Even working on the computer is better because that is at least interactive and requires reading and clicking. To start getting your brain in shape for a grueling mental task like a test, drastically cut down on television. If you're looking to fill the new free time with other entertaining activities, the best thing you can do is solve puzzles or play games. After that, reading is a good choice.

Aside from trying to limit television for when my brain just flat out needs to rest, I also try to keep up my physical workouts. Working out gives your brain a chance to rest and recharge, and also makes your body tired enough to help you sleep better.

About the biggest thing you can do for your brain is actually to switch to a super healthy diet. I try to eat properly anyway, but make sure you are getting vitamins and proteins in the days and weeks leading up to the test. When it gets close to test day, I eat a multivitamin every morning, eat protein for dinner, and fish oil pills at night. The healthy fats contained in fish oil are great for your brain processes. In fact, I take this a step further and the night before a test always have fish for dinner (even though I hate fish). I try to make it salmon, as that contains the highest amounts of healthy fish fats. On the morning of the test, I have an omelet for the protein, and a good carb such as whole grain bread. Caffeine is also important. You can get a 5% boost in mental agility just by drinking a cup of coffee. I don't drink coffee, and I don't drink any caffeine in the mornings because I don't want to develop a dependency, but on the morning of a test I will have a cup of strong hot chocolate.

Sleep is also tremendously important, and this is particularly important in the nights leading to the big test. A shortage of sleep will have devastating effects on cognitive speed, short- and long-term memory, math-processing skills, and spatial orientation. The ideal amount of sleep before a test is 8.5 hours. This is a problem because you usually will be so nervous that you won't be able to sleep much at all the night before the test. To battle this, after my salmon dinner I usually have two sleeping pills for dessert.

In the weeks before the test, you can actually form new neural connections in your brain by doing hard things such as brushing your teeth with the wrong hand (harder than it sounds) and showering with your eyes closed the entire time. This especially helps your spacial reasoning.

Finally - and this may sound strange - but I cut back on listening to rock music and replace it with classical. There are some studies that suggest certain kinds of music can help or hinder your mental performance, but they are all controversial. I personally believe that the sporadic percussion beats typical in rock can confuse the brain, while classical music can have the opposite effect. The most famous study concludes that Mozart is the best composer for this purpose. I personally don't think there is much difference between the classic composers in this context, but I usually add a little extra Mozart in just to be safe. ;)

So there we have it. Who knows whether all of this works or not, but I personally believe it does. Either way we know for a fact that these things will stave off the effects of Alzheimer's in the elderly. That's why I'm glad to see that Soduko has caught on in the nursing home set.

Anyway, I'm just happy I am finished with tests for a little while. My midterms start in about a month.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do one.