So how do you prepare for an exam?

I have just finished reading an article over on my favourite blog, Gizmodo.  If you were to go there you would discover everything I write here in the comments as I am not bothered about where else I write just so long as I also publish it here for my own benefit.  The article dealt with ways of increasing intelligence, such as wearing a particular outfit to focus the mind and eating the right foods, etc.  It was a very enjoyable article. I love this sort of stuff. I am always trying to find an edge. Unfortunately I have succeeded to the extent that I am no longer satisfied to be as stupid as when I started but not satisfied enough to stop trying to become more intelligent.  I do see the disadvantages to having more knowledge but it is a game of swings and roundabouts and there are also advantages.  The Gizmodo article in question can be found here:


The thing about the clothing is part of the reason why priests and witches and suchlike where special outfits. They need to be able to apply a lot of focus in their work and in order to do so they need to have a shut off point between daily concerns and entering the world of their religions. The changing of their outfits is going over this point. Have you ever noticed how if you go out into town wearing a scruffy pair of jeans and trainers you will feel and behave radically differently to when you are wearing a sharply pressed suit with patent leather Oxford shoes. Obviously feeling different is going to have an affect on our clarity of thought. Incidentally in Oxford they have for years taken their final exams wearing sub fusc, the formal academic outfits that top class university students are always pictured in. It is not just for the ceremonies, it is for the exams as well.

I always went to special measures to ensure my edge in exams myself though I never wore any particular outfits beyond that which I would have worn anyway. Of course I would have been living in a certain way throughout university but in the final couple of days I really focussed on preparation in building my advantage. Of course because on a number of occasions I had far too much to drink the night before I really needed this advantage.

The night before the exam I would drink beer or wine. This was partially just coincidence but additionally studies have shown that people who drink a glass of wine in the evening will show a better performance in mental tests the next day than people in a control group who did not. For this reason I also had a small glass of red wine about an hour before the exam. It is also helpful as it loosens you up, relaxes you and deals with nerves. Have you ever noticed how you can play pool better when you are drunk than when you are sober if you are a practiced player. Same theory I guess.

In addition I would have a cup of coffee after my wine. This is only advisable if you are also in the habit of regular coffee because you want to ensure your state dependant memory is working well. Essentially the way to help your memory is not to alter your state of mind from the condition it was in when you were originally learning. Like how you have dreams at night and do not remember them at all during the day but as soon as you start dropping off and your mind is once again in that state you suddenly remember them. Or how you do something when you are drunk but can’t remember it clearly when you are sober but the next time you are drunk you do. For this reason you do not want to alter your mind too far away from its learning state. Coffee has been shown to aid memory when studying but only in moderate amounts. When taken to excess it can cause your memory to deteriorate.

Of course if you have just had a coffee and a wine then you need to ensure that your mind is properly hydrated so make sure you also have a glass of water just before the exam. Do not go into the exam without a bottle of water as well because water is a lubricant of the brain that is very much overlooked. Also not having water can itself be a distraction if you are thirsty.

It is also good to take something into the exam that can power your brain. I usually take a selection of things. Glucose tablets are good; chocolate is good; dates are good. Often I barely touch them because when you are focussed you are so distracted by the task and the fact that you can remember everything that you need that you do not have the time to enjoy a piece of chocolate but the fact that it is there is very reassuring and it is one less worry, so even if you do not eat any it will still help you relax in the knowledge that you are prepared.

In addition to these very important items I would eat salmon in the run up to the exam. Salmon the night before is good, it definitely sharpens the mind, and even if this is merely a placebo effect we all know that even a placebo can have a powerful effect anyway.

The morning of the exam a muesli for breakfast is a good idea. Muesli, containing oats releases its energy gradually during the day so is a good constant source of energy for the mind. Another good source of energy is carbohydrates, which is why athletes load up on carbs the day before a race. Perhaps think about having your salmon with some tagliatelle the night before. With my breakfast I will have berries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. These do indeed help. A nice extra that can be obtained from a lot of health food shops, in England at least, is hemp seeds that are packed full of energy and omega oils which will aid thinking. Sprinkle a few of these on your breakfast.

While it is a good idea to always try and stay in shape it can help a lot if you exercise vigorously before the exam. Preferably about 3-4 hours before. I mean really pump it. Cycling always helped me. Do not do it too soon before the exam as your mind will be racing and you will be useless. You need time to calm and cool down again. The extra blood rushing through your brain will really help clear the cobwebs out. In addition endorphines will add to your sense of calm and well being. Following the exercise it is a good time to review your revision. Do not try to revise hard or anything, this is the point that you satisfy yourself that you have already revised enough and just try to remember what you already know. This is the time that you want to be meditating rather than revising. The important thing is to get you mind into a state of calm.

Of course there are a huge amount of ways that you can improve your memory. This would be far too much to go into here. I would recommend checking out a book called ‘remember remember’ by Josh Foer. Josh decided as an experiment to train himself and see if he could become a memory champion and memorise the order of packs of cards in minutes. He was tutored by Ed Cooke who owns the memrise website. Memrise is an excellent place to train your memory as you can create your own tests but the real beauty of Ed’s method is his use of mnemonics. The book goes into a little detail about them but more than anything it is an interesting story about a year of training. The real mnemonics are best if they are ones you have created yourself.

Aside from these points I have already mentioned I would say that it will help if you take a vitamin supplement the morning of the exam. I also took a gingko biloba pill and a cod liver oil capsule. And of course definitely try to get a good night’s sleep. This will make a massive difference. Poor sleep leads to your IQ deteriorating rapidly through the week. Make sure you are not late or flustered. Being early, prepared and calm can help a great deal. Aside from those tips I do not recall anything else that I had in my regime but these things were things I would follow like a ritual for exams. Ultimately it all helped because I managed to finish in the top four of my course at university. This was helped by having a natural knack for coursework but a major disadvantage I had was that I was extremely bad at exams. It was only through the development of this regime that I gained the advantages I needed to achieve results in my exams that I could not have achieved if I had not focussed not only on the subject I was supposed to be studying but also on the topic of how to enhance intelligence.


About harrymonmouth

Full of grace and fair regard, a true lover of the holy church. The courses of his youth promised it not but his body has become a paradise enveloping and containing celestial spirits. He has a sudden scholar become after reformation, in a flood, with heady currance scoured his faults and unseated his Hydra-headed wilfulness. Hear him but reason in divinity, and all-admiring with an inward wish you would desire he were made a prelate: Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs, You would say it hath been all in all his study: List his discourse of war, and you shall hear a fearful battle render'd you in music: Turn him to any cause of policy, the Gordian knot of it he will unloose, familiar as his garter: that, when he speaks, the air, a charter'd libertine, is still, and the mute wonder lurketh in men's ears, to steal his sweet and honey'd sentences; so that the art and practic part of life must be the mistress to this theoric: Which is a wonder how he should glean it, since his addiction was to courses vain, his companies unletter'd, rude and shallow, his hours fill'd up with riots, banquets, sports, and never noted in him any study, any retirement, any sequestration from open haunts and popularity.

Posted on April 28, 2012, in Mental health, Teaching, Top tips and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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