Right now in Brazil, it’s the season of make-or-break standardized tests for college and desirable public jobs, and that means lots of anxiety and pressure to do well on one test that determines if you get into a desired college or get that job that will give you a better life and salary.
Fortunately medical research from the last several years has discovered a couple simple techniques that test-takers can use to improve their scores. Of course there are no guarantees, but there are also no side effects either, so these methods are certainly worth trying.
The first technique has had various studies over the past twelve years supporting its beneficial effects, and it involves one of our favorite products, yes…chewing gum!
In March 2000, Japanese researchers discovered that the simple act of chewing increases activity in the hippocampus—a part of the brain critical in memory functions. Two years later, based on the Japanese results, researchers from the University of Northumbria (Newcastle, UK) released a study showing that adults who chewed gum during a 20-minute session of short-and longer-term memory testing showed a 24 to 36 percent improvement over people who did not chew gum.
From 2002 through 2011, a number of similar studies have been carried out, and all have shown some benefit to gum chewing. Various studies looked at attention, mood, alertness, and various types of memory. Some showed improvements in some of these functions and not others, but all showed some improvements with gum chewing, and no bad effects.
The last big study, in 2011, from St. Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y., U.S.A.), looked at 224 undergraduate students. One third did not chew gum, one third chewed gum before and throughout the test, and one third chewed gum only for five minutes just before beginning the test.
The best results were from the students who chewed gum just for the first five minutes before the test began. They showed a 25 to 50 percent improvement on various memory tests compared with the students who did not chew gum. The researchers found however that this improved memory only lasted for about 20 minutes, then their functioning dropped back to normal. Interestingly the students who kept chewing throughout the testing did not show continued improvement throughout the test.
These researchers concluded that chewing gum just at the beginning or right before the test was the best approach. Still, no one knows for sure. One thing is certain: more studies will be done (it’s cheap to do this research), and will further refine the best technique of chewing…when to start, when to stop during the test, etc.
You might wonder why gum chewing would have any effect on memory at all. The scientists are still not sure, but the best speculation is that the act of chewing temporarily improves blood flow to the brain, as well as alertness. It is not a matter of increased glucose to the brain, as both sugar-free and gum with sugar gave the same benefits (we suggest sugar-free gum containing the ingredient xylitol).
Finally, and briefly—since the number of studies on this are much fewer than the gum studies—one other thing might help in test situations, and it seems it helps by decreasing test anxiety. Smelling rosemary, either rosemary oils or the leaves themselves, seemed to improve “serial subtraction and visual information processing tasks”, but that at too high of a dose, the mood of the test-takers decreased. (We will write more about aromas and the brain in future posts).
In conclusion, it seems worthwhile to at least try gum-chewing to improve your test performance. If you can, carry out your own studies on how gum affects you, before the big test day, to see if you should only chew before the test, or perhaps intermittently throughout the test. Good luck! Feel free to write us with your conclusions, which we might share here on Mais Saúde!
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