Eating for exams

If you're hitting the books this summer, follow our foodie advice for making the most of your grey matter...

Eating for exams

Having just started studying again in my late 20s, I am reminded of all the desperate ways we try to overload our brains when exams loom. Record cards, corkboards, exercise books, revision plans, mock tests and lots and lots of post-it-notes, jostle for space on every conceivable surface in my room. Which technique is most effective? I still don't know. Everyone's capacity for learning is different - but there is one way to ensure your brain is ready to absorb all the information on that carefully colour-coded spidergram - the right diet, packed with brain-boosting foods.

Late nights, stress, missed meals and quick food fixes will all play havoc with your ability to concentrate, take in information and the function of your fit-to-burst brain-box. If you're hitting the books this summer, follow our foodie advice for making the most of your mind...

Keep calm and carry on eatingEgg and marmite soldiers

No matter how close your test is, try to keep calm. Stress can have an adverse effect on your appetite and skipping meals won't do your concentration any favours.

Despite the current debate as to whether six small meals a day are better than three, while revising, avoid hunger pangs and eat regularly. Embrace the cliché and make breakfast the most important meal of the day, filling up on energy-giving oats and also eggs, which contain a nutrient called choline , thought to help cognitive performance and improve memory as we age. For lunch, eat foods with a low glycemic index to keep you going until dinner. For your last meal of the day, make the most of oily fish, especially salmon . The clever swimmers are a great source of omega-3, an essential fatty-acid, with many health benefits and are believed to help brain funtion. Not a fish fan? Try chia or flaxseeds, believed to be the best vegetarian source of omega-3.

Stay hydrated

Water allows many of the chemical reactions in our bodies to take place and therefore, the speed at which our brains can work and process all those notes will be affected if we become dehydrated . The NHS recommends we aim to drink around 1.2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid a day - water being the liquid of choice to keep your body functioning on top form.

Melon bran potsEat for energy

Tempted to reach for something sweet to get you through the afternoon? Excessive sugar consumption is getting particularly bad press at the moment, and with good reason. The temporary high you'll get from a sugar-fix will be followed quickly by crashing blood sugar levels causing, among other things, fatigue.

Opt instead for healthy snacks, packed with wholefoods like dried fruit nuggets and melon bran pots or, if you can't close your books for long enough to cook, snack on blueberries, blackcurrants and other berries, all full of vitamin C, which is thought to help improve mental agility. Vitmain E and zinc are also thought to have a positive impact on the brain so have a helping of pumpkin seeds and walnuts on hand next time hunger strikes.

Food heroes

From wholegrains and seeds to tomatoes and sage, make sure you're au fait with brain-boosting foods by reading our top 10 ...

Get enough sleepSleep well

While you want heaps of energy during the day, come bedtime ensure your body and mind are ready to rest. Lack of sleep will make it impossible to understand the detailed theory of X Factor let alone anything else, and you'll be much more likely to reach for a sugary fix to get you through the learning lulls.

Warm milk and herbal teas before bed have a sedative effect, while a carb-rich snack an hour or so before you head upstairs will clear the way for sleep-inducing amino acids to reach the brain. Read our sleep well feature for more suggestions to help you nod off.


Support your immune system

If you've been suffering from stress, sleepless nights or a poor diet due to all that knowledge cramming, your immune system will likely need a helping hand. Avoid having your hard work scuppered by a cold or worse by filling your plate with fruit, veg and wholegrains. Discover more:

How to prevent a cold
How to get rid of a cold
Which natural cold remedies really work?

This article was last reviewed on 22 November 2017 by Kerry Torrens.

A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

What are your top foodie tips for revising?

Comments, questions and tips

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TheEightHours's picture
3rd Mar, 2016
Got the perfect energy boost for a quick snack. Healthy, tasty and good for you - killer combo:
14th Feb, 2016
Great article. Good food and natural supplements.
15th May, 2014
Sleep is the best thing. If you find yourself dropping off, don't fight it, go to bed but then get up early. When I was studying for exams (a long time ago) we didn't know anything about "five a day" and there were no energy drinks. Apples, tinned sardines, tea and toast, a mug of hot chocolate in the winter exams, a small glass of pepsi for the summer ones.
9th May, 2014
very informative article - thanks for the advice!!!
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