The Five Senses of Studying

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

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Exams are imminent. Stress is mounting and your palms are sweating just thinking about picking up that pencil. How will I remember all of this? What if I totally fail? This is so overwhelming. 

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are so many scientifically proven ways to effectively study for your exams. 

The bad news is that it isn’t going to happen by itself. 

You’ve probably already poured over your notes until your eyes blur over with exhaustion, so maybe it’s time for something different. We are physical beings, interacting with the world in complex ways, but here’s the thing: we always use our five senses. 

Here are some practical tips for studying that will boost your brain power and you might even get to have a little fun in the process. 

Taste 
A strange one to start with but who says learning can’t be interesting? Often we don’t think about how what we eat impacts our brain, but there are some foods that have been demonstrated to have a positive impact in boosting memory, concentration and focus. Take walnuts for instance, which contain magnesium which can improve your mood, which in turn helps learning. Or dark chocolate which assists focus and concentration. 

Our bodies and brains work best when we fuel them effectively and take the time to eat balanced meals. Study shouldn’t mean that dinner gets skipped - make sure you take care of yourself and your brain will thank you. 

If you want to learn more about this fascinating area, check out this list of helpful foods, or this podcast by Jim Kwik ‘My 10 Favourite Brain Foods’

Smell
Did you know that certain aromas also have the power to stimulate the brain? Essential oils can be utilised to boost brain power, such as peppermint (supports memory, focus, concentration and mental performance) or lemon (to reduce stress).  If you need to be in a calm state, try lavender. (Check out this article ‘5 essential oils to banish brain fog once and for all’ for more options.)

Want to go one step further? Have you ever caught a whiff of something and it immediately brought up a memory. Our olfactory system is closely associated with many of the brain’s functions, but memory is a key one. Why don’t you try and use this to your advantage? By pairing your study with a particular odor that you can reproduce just before you walk into the exam room (like a splash of your favourite essential oil on a handkerchief), you will be partnering with your brain’s unique ability to link recall with smell. 

Sight
Sight is probably the first sense we think of when we sit down to study and it is very important. Using our eyes to read through notes is one way of processing information but do you find yourself getting distracted? Avoid multitasking, it just slows you down. See if you can hone your entire focus on the page while you study. Also, try and read faster. Like a race car driver needing to use their full capabilities to remain on the track, reading at a greater speed helps our brain to stay on task. 

Also, change it up a little. If you always study in your room, try moving to a verandah or the dining room. The location itself isn’t that important, but varying your place of study can help your brain make better connections

Touch
How can you use touch in study? Simple. Print out your notes. If you are used to reading on a screen, that’s fine, but try scrawling on the paper version instead. Research shows that a physical copy can assist our engagement, although handwritten notes are the most effective for long-term memory retention

It may seem counter-intuitive to unchain yourself from the desk, but taking a break for exercise can actually make those neurons nimble. Whether it is a walk, a run or lifting some weights, doing something physical just before study can help your brain work much better. 

Hearing
This may sound a little odd, but have you ever read your notes aloud to yourself? What about in a different accent? Okay so you can leave off the accent if you like, but research has found that when we use our voices to read, instead of just using our eyes, we are more likely to remember it. 

If you are feeling extra confident, try and teach the content to a friend, your family or maybe just some lonely stuffed animals sitting around. As Jim Kwik says, ‘when you teach something you get to learn it twice’. 

Bonus tips

So, you have your scented candles burning, dark chocolate sitting there waiting to be consumed, you have just returned from a run and you’re sitting on the verandah speaking in a accent to your teddy bear. What else can you do to maximise your study potential?

  • Study just before bed. Known as ‘sleep learning’, your brain can make new connections far more efficiently if you time it for that lull before you turn out the light. 
  • Practice. It isn’t a glossy option, but doing something many times really does increase our ability to do it better. If you get the opportunity to do a practice exam, take it. You won’t regret it. 
  • Change it up. Don’t get snowed under by a subject, but switch between them. Known as ‘interleaving’ it is one of the most effective ways for our brains to make connections, particularly if the subjects are similar. 

Want more links? Check out 17 Scientifically proven ways to study better this year or put on some headphones and scroll through the list of Jim Kwik’s bite-sized brain hacks for busy people in his exceptional and helpful podcast