Supplements and food to help for test
April 30, 2005 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I am taking a difficult test Monday morning and it is very important that I pass. I'm pretty much prepared, and I'll be cramming all weekend, but I'd like to know if any of you kind souls have had any tangible good results in memory enhancing supplements such as Ginseng, Ginkgo biloba, or Gotu kola. If so what seemed to bring the best results? Also are there any types of foods or eating habits that have a positive effect on memory and testing performance? Will anything help on such a short notice?
posted by sublivious to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I doubt any substance will help you for Monday morning, unless you can get a, err, prescription for Adderall or similar. For the long-term, physical exercise, regular mental stimulation and challenges, low stress are key aides. Supplements may help, but they're pretty idiosyncratic. Fatty acid supplements, B vitamins, pramiracetam, hydergine et al. are supposed to work but don't take my word for it.
posted by Gyan at 10:54 AM on April 30, 2005

The best thing that will help at this point is being well rested. That will help more than anything you could take right now.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:56 AM on April 30, 2005

I don't think you'll get anything to work on such a short-term (other than a big fat placebo, I hear you can get those for cheap online).

In my experience, if well prepared for a test, the best thing is a good night's sleep beforehand and possibly a little something to help concentration duing the test (caffeine, chocolate/sugar in reasonable amounts).
posted by Krrrlson at 10:59 AM on April 30, 2005

My formula has always been: get plenty of sleep, don't eat a big meal before the test, and don't cram. Set yourself a deadline before tomorrow night to stop cramming/studying and stick to it. Do something else, relax. Trying to cram too much information into your brain in too short a time period is counter-productive. That formula has never failed me (i.e. I've never failed a test, or even done less then extremely well. But don't listen to my advice re just about anything other than test-taking because the other stuff I fail all the time).
posted by tiny purple fishes at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2005

I remember hearing somewhere about a study that showed that lecithin could improve IQ. I googled and found this page. You may find it beneficial.

I also remember a study that showed listening to Mozart before a test could improve performance, but I think it was debunked. Still, what could it hurt?
posted by wsg at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2005

Stop wandering and get off the internet and back to studying. No sense making a science experiment of yourself at the last minute.
posted by furtive at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2005

wsg : " I also remember a study that showed listening to Mozart before a test could improve performance, but I think it was debunked."

Actually, it did work, somewhat.

"Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993) found that a group of 36 college undergraduates improved their spatial-temporal intelligence (the ability to mentally manipulate objects in three-dimensional space) after listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata. Results showed that student' IQ scores improved by 8-9 points and lasted for 10-15 minutes.".
posted by Gyan at 11:29 AM on April 30, 2005

I stand corrected, Gyan. There you have it, sublivious.
posted by wsg at 11:36 AM on April 30, 2005

I would think twice about putting something in your body that is quite unproven. As they say, take a risk only if the benefits greatly outweigh the risks - in this case they don't. Keep in mind with these substances usually we know little about their side-effects, especially considering the difficulty in isolating them from the many different things different people ingest daily. Usually you don't know what your allergic to, until its too late. Small reactions can create chain effects in the body to start other problems. And just because they say they are natural doesn't mean its safe-many of the worst reactions come from natural sources. Sorry this came out alarmist.
Back to topic I have found that cramming, if studying by doing problems is the best way - because reading is only good if your memory is photographic.
posted by uni verse at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2005

I've had good luck with Ginko and a caffeine-containing Cola... but I think this is largely from it making my heart race- thus pumping more blood and oxygen to the brain. The side effects are irritability and post-high crash... when it wears off, you'll want a nap.

A friend of mine had me try some Piracetam... All I got from it was irritable. I recommend the same as the above- sleep, good study, and maybe what I've tried... but it's not a good idea to go into a test on a new substance. If you're not comfortable with your heart racing and high blood pressure, don't use ginko, ginseng, or caffeine. It may end up distracting you from the task at hand.
posted by fake at 12:30 PM on April 30, 2005

Psychological research also shows that environmental cues aid memory. So, study in an environment that is as similar as possible to the hall in which you'll be taking your exam and in a mood that is as similar as possible. So don't study when tired or hungry unless you plan on being tired and hungry while taking the exam. Don't study on a couch - find a desk and a solid chair. Do not have music on. That kind of thing.
posted by kavasa at 12:41 PM on April 30, 2005

Back when I was on Academic Decathlon, we did a few dietary things based on the neuroscience unit a few years before me. Avoid turkey and dairy because of triptophan. Avoid pizza for a reason that currently escapes me. Good food would be rice, fish, pasta, and things of that sort. Don't rely on sugar as your pre-test stimulant, a moderate dose of caffeine or a related xanthine is better. Drink tea or mate if you don't like coffee. Sleep is critical, aim for 7-8 hours and try not to under or oversleep. Exercise, music, and relaxing at some point before the test will also do wonders, as stress killed more than a few of our rival teams.

Though, I have no personal, tangible experience with those herbal supplements. Eat as healthily as you can, and honestly try not to stress yourself out.
posted by rfordh at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2005

Not to side-track from the extremely good answers regarding plenty of rest and good study habits, but I recall something regarding elevated serotonin levels that allowed for clearer thinking and processing. I could be adding a lot on to that, but the first place I heard about serotonin (being an English major) was my doctor's office while visiting during college.

At the time, he had an article up on a corkboard that explained a relationship between carbohydrates and serotonin levels. So, maybe there's something to the idea that eating rice and pasta that rfordh mentioned.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:24 PM on April 30, 2005

thanotopsis, rfordh recommended to avoid tryptophan sources like dairy, probably to avoid elevated melatonin (sleep-related). Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) and, in fact, the rate-limiting step in the synthesis. If, indeed, 5-HT promotes "clearer thinking", 5-HTP supplement is a better bet.
posted by Gyan at 3:02 PM on April 30, 2005

Drink tea or mate if you don't like coffee.

I vote for the adequate rest the night before and your usual stimulant regime prior to/during the test. I would agree that new products might give you unwanted effects such as headache etc. Me? I crammed like buggery on little sleep and fields of tobacco right up to the starting bell. But hyperstress is not really fun or particularly sensible.
posted by peacay at 4:01 PM on April 30, 2005

I would think twice about putting something in your body that is quite unproven.

Potential allergies aside, most of these things probably aren't going to hurt you. Ginkgo and ginseng, at least, are found in food.
posted by juv3nal at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2005

The substance you are looking for is Kola Nut. Not Gotu Kola, but the nut from which kola is extracted. Big and bitter, maybe you can find it at health food herbal shops. Nigerian taxi drivers live on this stuff.

It has loads of caffeine, but some other substances which are puportedly memory enhancing. Back in the 1980s a study was done of Nigerian University students who chewed it while cramming for exams, and those kola nut-heads scored better than the non-chewers.
posted by zaelic at 7:06 AM on May 1, 2005

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