Is it a bad thing to miss an exam?

Brain doping for exams: what really helps

Whether brain doping for exams or for better performance in the workplace: the subject of performance-enhancing substances is controversial. Some are known as manager drugs, others raise questions about its effectiveness. Also critical when exams can only be mastered with the help of medication. But it doesn't have to be. What do students take to learn better? We explain what brain doping is and how you can increase your concentration ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Definition: what is brain doping?

The term brain doping is a bit misleading because it is stuck doping inside. This suggests the use of prohibited substances to increase one's own performance. In this case, it's about cognitive performance. However, brain doping by no means automatically refers to illegal drugs. Basically psychoactive substances are meant, which can be legal, but only require a prescription.

Since the introduction of the Bachelor and Master courses the density of exams at universities has increased. In the old study model, the maximum number of intermediate exams counted, but now every performance is included in the final grade. This has increased the pressure on students enormously. Can brain doping be a way out of exam stress?

What do students take to learn better?

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research points out that the number of Ritalin prescriptions has been increasing for years. According to a study by the German Employees Health Insurance Fund (DAK), five percent of all respondents have already resorted to performance-enhancing or mood-enhancing substances. The survey was carried out among 3,000 insured persons between the ages of 20 and 50 years. In a survey of schoolchildren shortly before their Abitur and students, at least four percent stated that they had already tried to improve their performance by means of brain doping. What drugs are we talking about here? Substances known as neuro-enhancers include agents such as:

  • Methylphenidate
    Mainly known under the name Ritalin, it is effective against attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Antidepressants
    Remedies like fluoxetine and citalopram have a mood-enhancing effect and are prescribed for depression.
  • Antidementia drugs
    For example, Domepezil, is used against dementia and Alzheimer's.
  • Beta blockers
    People who are anxious about exams, in particular, use antihypertensive drugs such as metoprolol: the preparation lowers the level of the stress hormone adrenaline and has a calming effect.

All of these preparations require a prescription. There is also great demand for the other substances in order to combat restlessness, nervousness and fear.

Does brain doping solve problems?

The problem: in some cases alertness or tiredness may improve with a lack of sleep. However, these drugs were never intended as brain doping, but were developed for people with illnesses. There are no really reliable findings about their performance-enhancing effects on healthy people. The only thing that is really certain are the side effects. These include headaches, a changed personality and the risk of addiction. These side effects are arguably the reason why many people still hold back. Because when asked whether one could imagine taking such preparations if they were free of side effects, the acceptance of the respondents was significantly higher: 80 percent agreed!

The basic problem, however, is different. Anyone who uses brain doping thinks they have found a shortcut to their goal, motto: Are you still buffalo or are you already alive? While others are laboriously cramming, the (supposedly) clever one can already party. Seen in this way, brain doping would be a glimmer of hope for all those who are exposed to the double burden of family and work or study and part-time job. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Some studies suggest that students who performed well on methylphenidate get worse. However, the psychological effect should not be underestimated: Those who only perform with the help of brain doping will never experience the feeling of self-efficacy. That tends to force abuse and lead directly to addiction.

Three tips for short-term preparation

Timely preparation for the exam is of course the best. But getting stuck in a what-if loop is of no use. Such thoughts only waste valuable time and energy and prevent effective learning. One insight: Even with enough lead time, not everything can be learned. To some extent, exams always mean “having the courage to take a gap”. Do you only have a few days left to learn as much material as possible? Then you need a plan with which to approach it. Throwing headlong into the subject matter appears productive, but does not necessarily lead to success. These three tips can help you:

  1. Approach the matter with motivation. If you are annoyed from the outset that you have to study for the exam and the corresponding subject, the knowledge will be much less memorable. You develop an inner attitude of resistance. Better to keep in mind what the exam will bring you.
  2. Narrow down the subject matter. Review the documents and content discussed. Remember to what extent your professor or teacher narrowed down the subject matter. Compare this information with old exams and ask fellow students what they are learning. You portion what is left over and learn the contents piece by piece.
  3. Practice rendering the knowledge. Many students fail because, although they have acquired a lot of knowledge, they cannot reproduce it correctly. But you can train that. Discuss what you have learned with others. In the apartment, hang up questions such as "What is the Fishbein model?" Answer them mentally in passing.

Brain doping for exams

If you look around the room during an exam, you will find that most of them have provided themselves with stimulants. Usually these are glucose or energy drinks. Behind this is the hope of giving your own performance a little boost. But you should refrain from such artificial energy suppliers. These only provide a short-term boost of energy, which usually disappears after 20 minutes. Most of the time, this is followed by a depression of concentration. Unfortunately, chocolate has the same effect. What really helps:

Do you drink much

Water or lightly sweetened tea are best. It has been proven that dehydration leads to headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. You should have a good liter with you.

Eat whole grains for breakfast

Whole grains and oatmeal contain complex and long chain carbohydrates that provide your brain with plenty of energy. This is what you need for the exhausting exam. The advantage of long-chain carbohydrates is that they are broken down over a longer period of time and thus continuously provide energy.

Get the right snacks

Nuts or other protein-containing products, such as buttermilk, are ideal snacks between meals for an additional kick of energy. The smallest components of proteins, the amino acids, are already messenger substances or are converted into them. The messenger substances ensure that information gets quickly from one cell to the next. That makes you more efficient. Bananas are also suitable. They contain magnesium, which strengthens the nerves. They also contain substances that stimulate the production of happiness hormones. More about plant-based brain doping, so-called Brain foodsthat provide energy can be found here.

Don't eat anything powerful beforehand

If your exam does not take place in the morning, but later in the day, you still have enough time for lunch. Make sure that this turns out to be easy and that you do not consume any heavy and fatty products. After eating fatty foods, you fall into the so-called schnitzel coma. Then your body puts all its energy into digestion instead of your thinking. It makes you tired.

Avoid performance-enhancing medication

Medicines like Ritalin or Modafinil are supposed to make you more focused and alert. But artificial stimulation is dangerous because it is a drug that was developed for diseases. Ingesting healthy people misappropriates them. They can lead to side effects such as difficulty sleeping. In addition, the effectiveness with long-term use has not been proven. Keep the following in mind: If you artificially increase one area of ​​your memory performance, it is always at the expense of another. For this reason, we strongly advise against taking such agents. Instead, we recommend

Checklist for the day of the exam

Even on the day of the exam, there is still a lot you can do to start the exam more relaxed:

  • Think about what you need in good time. Check if your pens are working. If you need certain aids, such as law books or calculators, check to see whether you have stowed them in your pocket. Pack drinks and a snacks for the exam.
  • Find out where the exam takes place. Check the evening before in which room your exam will take place. Think about the best way to get there and look for train and bus connections in good time. Then you know how much time you have after getting up.
  • Maintain rituals. Do you always start your morning the same way? Then hold on to it. Rituals provide security and calm down in stressful situations.
  • Be there in good time. Plan enough buffer time when you arrive. Nothing is more stressful than sprinting into the exam room shortly before you arrive. However, if you're there a few minutes earlier, you'll have plenty of time to relax and unwind.
  • Avoid alarmists. There are people who manage to upset other people with their behavior. These are the people who bring their learning materials with them to the exam and ask the group: Have you learned that too and repeated that marginal area? Automatically you start to doubt what you have learned. Stay away from such people and focus on yourself.
  • Do some relaxation exercise before you start. Take a deep breath. Correct breathing can release tension. Close your eyes for a moment and think of something positive. It also helps many people to grimace. This relaxes the facial muscles and lifts the mood.

You will find all tips summarized as a checklist for free download here:

Checklist for the day of the exam

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