How do you study for exams? Are you a dead-silence type of person or do you concentrate better while classical music plays in the background? A new study published in the Psychological Science Journal confirmed a long-standing hypothesis that mindfulness helps improve your working memory capacity and significantly reduce the tendency of your mind to wander.
The Three Ms of Studying: Memory, Mindfulness, Minimum Mind Wandering
Studying is one of the most challenging intellectual tasks children and young adults face throughout their school and university years. In order to develop an efficient study routine, with long-term storage of the information studied, you need mindfulness, minimum mind wandering, and a well-functioning memory capacity.
The study conducted by University of California researchers looked into how mindfulness affects studying, and the subsequent exam scores. While the study focused on participants taking GRE exams, its findings are applicable to a wide range of other student exams, including IELTS, SAT, and GMAT exams.
The Exciting Findings: Mindfulness Improves Test Scores
It has been long known that a wandering mind, prone to distraction, is frequently the reason why we underperform on mentally challenging tasks such as exams. Our helplessness to stop ourselves drifting into thoughts and dreams unrelated to the task at hand severely compromises productivity, performance, and efficiency in many aspects of our lives. What starts out as an issue in school can lead to even more impact on our future professional lives.
The researchers at Santa Barbara found that after a two-week mindfulness intensive training program, those participating saw their memory capacity and their mindfulness improve. The experiment succeeded because it shows that practicing mindfulness substantially reduces the tendency of the mind to wander, making it easier for people to focus on the present moment and on what requires their full attention at that instant.
The proof of the positive outcome of the training program are found in the 48 university undergraduates’ GRE scores. The students were able to perform better in the reading comprehension section of the GRE exams they were asked to take. While prior to the mindfulness training program the undergraduate students’ average GRE score was 460, post training this score increased by 60 points, becoming 520.
The study confirms that mindfulness can help improve concentration and ultimately performance at any intellectually challenging task, as it helps eliminate mind wandering and improves working memory capacity. This is obviously very useful for students who are required to frequently take all sorts of exams.
Practicing Mindful Meditation
Mindfulness is a skill. It’s the ability to suppress the urge to let your mind wander to unrelated thoughts, and instead focus entirely on a given task. It’s a skill that can be learned through practice.
Sitting meditation is a popular practice that improves mindfulness. In this practice, you focus on slowly becoming aware of your present state of being, excluding all unrelated thoughts and feelings.
Find a quiet, relaxing environment and sit cross-legged (or in a position that is comfortable for a longer period of time). Close your eyes and slowly start paying attention to your body, your breath, how your hands touch your knees, the sound of your lungs breathing air in and out. Gradually, let every thought and task blur into the background, while you become entirely aware of how your body feels in the present moment.
For mindfulness to be successful, body, thoughts and breath need to be synced with the present moment. Start with breathing to anchor yourself into the present, introduce your body to the experience by inviting each sense in one by one, and lastly, clear your mind of anything related to either the future or the past.
With daily mindfulness practice you can gradually increase your overall mindfulness capacity and reap all the benefits this brings, from improved working memory to better performance for mentally challenging tasks.