How To Ace Your Exams: A Healthy Lifestyle Can Help

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Last week, only a day after the orientation day for Université de Moncton’s new Faculty of Science students, I took my first test for the 2010-2011 school year. It wasn’t a “real” test on material learned in class, but a French placement test that determined how many credits of French I and all the other U de Moncton freshman would be obligated to earn.

Although I’m normally a little nervous before taking tests, I’d never been as nervous as I was before this test. Unlike usual, I wasn’t sure what I would be tested on and how I would be scored until I arrived at the test-taking site.

My faith in my ability to write proper French was mediocre, even when I felt most confident. Although my family and I speak French at home, I completed most of my education in the U.S. and recieved little formal instruction in French. Plus, I had heard from other students that most people didn’t do as well on the test as they presumed they would.

Fortunately, the test went well and I got the result I was crossing my fingers for. I attributed my score to careful studying, but perhaps it wasn’t the only influence. Researchers have found that academic performance can be affected by many different factors.

Some you can’t change, like birth order. Tiffany Frank, a doctoral candidate at Adelphi University concluded what she personally suspected was true when she studied forty-five pairs of siblings: the oldest child in a family has higher intelligence scores, but the youngest performs better at school. Others are in your control: eating habits, fitness, sleep, and your social life.

You might be tempted to smirk at the suggestion that your social life influences grades. “Everyone knows” that having a social life is a no-no if good grades are a priority, right? Actually, what is more important is having friends who are “achievement-oriented and [who] share and support school-related activities, including studying, because they are all in the same environment”, according to Dr. Witkow who first authored a study on the subject while at the University of California. Having more friends at school than outside of school increases the probability that you will recieve better grades.

Other common teenage beliefs about earning good grades have also been proven false: skimping on sleep isn’t an effective way to cram more into your day and jocks aren’t airheads. Dr. James Maas, a psychology professor at Cornell University, found that students who sleep longer and deeper recieve higher grades than those who don’t. Dr. McCarthy and other researchers at the University of California found that students who were physically fitter than their peers did better academically.

Some common knowledge is true however. According to the Dietitians of Canada, breakfast eaters perform better in school.

Don’t wait until exam week to practice good habits; start now to get the benefits as you begin learning new material.

For more information on boosting grades and practicing healthy habits, consult the following resources:

www.youthcanada.ca

www.kidshealth.org/teen

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on September 11th, 2010.

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