I remember reading general articles about study foods during my exams, high sugar foods and fluids were generally recommended. Mars bars were particularly popular in examination halls, too. This sorry piece sets things right:
Can food improve your exam performance?
Can eating right improve your exam grades?
When you’re faced with a pile of revision, feeding your body as well as your brain may be the last thing on your mind. But can you give yourself an advantage simply by eating certain foods? And does drinking plenty of water really increase your chances of getting good grades?
Whether you’re a student or the parent of a child sitting school exams, are there quick and easy food tips to help maintain those all-important energy levels and improve concentration and memory?
How important is drinking water?
One of the best ways to maximise your focus is to ensure you are hydrated. Even mild dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches, reduced alertness and diminished concentration.
It’s a good idea to start the day with a big glass of water or a hot drink such as fruit tea. The European Food Safety Authority recommends women drink about 1.6 litres of fluid a day and men 2 litres. That’s eight to ten 200ml glasses. Water is ideal, but healthy drinks such as milk or fruit juice count. Tea and coffee count too, but are high in caffeine. It’s best to avoid fizzy and energy drinks, which are high in sugar, as they’ll lead to energy peaks and troughs. Take a bottle of water into the exam if you’re allowed to; a study of university students found that those who brought drinks, especially water, with them into the exam performed on average 5% better than those who didn’t.
Which foods will help you focus?
Eating a balanced diet can help you focus and avoid illness. No single food is nutritionally complete, so you need variety. Try not to skip meals or your blood-sugar level will drop. Click on the labels below for more information on a balanced diet.
Use the above impression of a plate as a guide to the proportions of vegetables, fruit, protein and whole grains that should comprise a healthy, balanced diet. These proportions are based on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate.
What’s the best breakfast on exam days?
Research shows that those who eat breakfast tend to perform better in exams. For the best breakfast, include slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole rolled porridge oats, whole grain bread or low-sugar muesli, as they provide slow-release energy. Add a protein food, such as milk, yoghurt or eggs, to keep you feeling full for longer. On exam day aim to include a portion of a food rich in long-chain Omega-3 fats, such as smoked mackerel, as they are believed to have brain-boosting properties. See Where Next in step 8 for a collection of these breakfast recipes.
Exam day special: wholemeal toast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon gives you a good portion of Omega-3 fats.
Which snacks should you choose?
When it comes to snacks on revision and exam days, should you eat crisps or popcorn? Cereal bars or nuts and seeds? Click on the labels below to find out.
Starter kit: Find your top recipes
Find simple, fuss-free recipes that work around your lifestyle; whether that’s a tight budget, fussy family or strict schedule.
What should you eat for a good night’s sleep?
How can sleep affect your grades?
Not getting enough sleep may negatively affect your memory and slow your responses. Experts believe memory neurons that are responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term ones work most effectively when we are asleep. There’s evidence that students who sleep for seven hours a night do on average 10% better than those who get less sleep. But what should you eat and drink at bedtime to promote sleep?
What should you eat before bedtime?
A heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, so try to have your last meal at least three hours before you go to bed. Then have a small snack such as a bowl of high-fibre cereal like porridge just before bedtime. If you need sweetener with cereal, go for dried fruit rather than sugar.
What should you drink at bedtime?
Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate, for least four hours before going to bed. Be aware that some people who are very sensitive to caffeine can still feel the effect 12 hours later. A warm glass of milk can help you sleep better.