30 Apr The science behind learning science: 4 ways to rock your exams

Feeling desperate while studying for your exams? Take some advice from scientists.Feeling desperate while studying for your exams? Take some advice from scientists.

Your first university exam – a whole new ballgame. Three hours in a big crowded hall, trying to recall the zillions of pages you studied beforehand, you’ve got your work cut out for you. So what is the best way to prepare for all this? Let’s ask science for some advice.


”Bill Gates is famous for saying that when his programmers have a deadline, they can program 72 hours straight without sleep to finish it. And my answer is always, yes, and the product is Windows,” says biochemist Robert Stickgold. Stickgold proved the importance of sleep with a simple ‘texture-discrimination test’, in which people had to distinguish patterns on a computer screen:

  • After 1 night of good sleep, people could distinguish patterns 25% faster than before.
  • After 3 nights of good sleep, they could distinguish another 15% faster.

So don’t study all night before your exam, getting plenty of sleep will help you a lot more.

Don’t get fat!

At our faculty there are lots of edible temptations: muffins, pizza’s, chocolates, cookies. But beware! Getting fat can influence your memory. Researchers at the University of Munster put a group of overweight people on 3 different diets:

  • The same diet as they had before (for the control group).
  • The same diet as they had before, but with extra unsaturated fats
  • The same diet as they had before, but with 30% less calories.

The last ‘hungry’ group was the only group to do way better at a memory test than before the diet, probably due to a lower concentration of the protein CRP in their blood. So if you have to learn a lot of pages by heart, keep your brain healthy!

Believe in yourself! (if you are a girl)

Psychologist Akire Miyake suspected that men are not really better at science than women, but that the gap between the sexes has to do with (lack of) self-confidence. He made a group of students, men and women, take a course in physics. During the course, one half of the group had to do exercises to strengthen their self-esteem:

  • The women that didn’t do the self-esteem exercises, scored an average 6 out of 10 for the course test.
  • The women that did do the self-esteem exercises, scored an average 7 out of 10, as high as the average score of the men.
  • For the men there was no difference in scores.

So girls, get confident, and boys, stay confident!

Be cool!

In an American study, two groups of participants were asked to choose between two cell phone plans, in either a warm or a cool room:

  • The plan that looked more attractive on the surface, was actually more expensive, and the other way around.
  • If the participants used simple decision-making patterns, they would choose the expensive plan. Only a more complex analysis would lead to the right decision.
  • The researchers found that the participants in the cool room tended to think much more complex and therefore make the right decision.

So you should stay very cool during your exams! The heating system at our faculty is automatic, but putting on your summer dress and taking a cool drink with you will certainly help you to think complex.

Do you have any (scientifically based) advice on how you rock your exams? Let me know in the comments.

WTFmarie beth

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