The science of passing a midterm 


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It seems like every time exam season approaches, everybody starts throwing the same age-old advice around: Eat a good breakfast, get enough sleep, use the process of elimination, take some time to destress and so on. By this point in your college career, hearing this same advice won’t help you. What may be of use to you, however, are some fresh test-taking tips that have been endorsed by science. There has been a lot of research done on ways to improve brain power by taking certain steps both the day of a test and before.  

Exercise before your test to clear your mind. When you exercise, more blood and oxygen flow into your brain, improving memory and clarity. Studies have shown that after working out participants can respond to memory tests 20 percent better than they could before. So if you’ve got a midterm at 11:15 a.m. and don’t mind being a little sweaty when you show up, maybe go for a nice jog in the rec center at 10:30 a.m. However, even if you can’t swing a pre-test workout, if you generally work out a few times a week, it may already be helping your brain function. The more often you exercise and bathe your brain in blood and oxygen, the more it will grow in a way that’s conducive to thinking and memory. It may be too late to start good exercise habits in time for midterms, but if you work out three times a week between now and finals, maybe you can get away with bombing the midterm now and acing the final later. 

Changing up your studying location will help you remember things better. A New York Times article about study habits shared a research experiment in which participants were asked to remember 40 words. If the participants did two sets of 40-word memory tests in the same room, they performed worse than participants who did two sets of tests in two different rooms. The theory behind this is that when we try to remember things, we associate them with things in our environment. So if you try to associate too many things to the same environment, you won’t be able to remember them all. Instead of studying for German, calculus and biology in the library, then, study for German in the library, calculus in the Union and biology in the secret study room above Price Chopper.

What you’re eating the week before the test matters. You thought it was just breakfast, but that’s a lie. According to University of Oxford research, college students who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet for a week performed worse on attention and thought-speed tests than college students who were fed fruit and vegetable-rich diets. On the day of the test, it is important to get a high-carb, high-fiber and slow-digesting breakfast like oatmeal to boost your brain function. Even if you’re resigned to leave your studying until the last minute, you can at least start eating for the test ahead of time.  

Chew peppermint gum while you’re studying, and then again during the exam. Peppermint stimulates the Hippocampus, which controls mental clarity and memory. Therefore, tasting or even smelling peppermint will improve awareness, which is always helpful during an exam. On top of that, you may remember that while studying, you associate what you study with your environment. From that, you can determine that if your environment includes peppermint while studying, you’ll associate the content with peppermint. Tasting peppermint again while you’re taking the test will help trigger those associations and remind you what you studied. 

Hopefully you can add these new tips and tricks onto your existing list of study strategies, and they’ll lead you to success this midterm season. And if not, there’s always finals. 

Alex Houdeshell is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at

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