Tag Archives: performance

As anyone who has ever struggled to leave the comfort of a cozy bed knows, sleep matters. In fact, sleep deficits are linked to such a litany of physical and psychological disorders that one has to wonder why a solid 8 or more hours a night isn’t prescribed medically for children. Adolescents, existing as they do in an attenuated state of development, need a whole lot more sleep (9.25 hours) than they typically get (7 hours). No wonder teens can be so moody. Yes, sleep supports optimal physical health, emotional well-being, and better decision making. But if that’s not enough for you, let’s throw in better grades and test scores. Researchers learn again and again that people often learn better when sleeping before and after–but obviously not during–instruction or study. A large group of scientists, mostly from French universities, explored one easily appreciated aspect of this dynamic: Relearn Faster and…

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Big tests, like other big moments in our lives, demand our best, which can be difficult to find when we are overheated and drenched in sweat. Such a conclusion seems obvious, but apart from some amateur studies, not enough research has been done on the relationship between temperature and test scores. In the workplace, performance finds its sweet spot between 69.8° and 71.6°F. Does the same apply in school? According to Jisung Park at Harvard University, heat stress on exam days reduces test scores and educational attainment by economically significant magnitudes. An analysis of data from New York City public schools from 1998-2011 revealed some powerful observations: 1. Heat stress during exams reduces student performance. Students who took Regents exams on a 90˚F day earned consistently lower scores than students who tested on cooler days, leading to a 10.5% lower likelihood of passing any given subject. 2. Heat exposure during…

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So… you are finally ready for the big test. You go to sleep Friday night, confident in your progress and abilities, and proceed to be agonized by nightmares that limit you to two hours of sleep. Or worse, you get so much sleep that you slumber right through your alarm. Better to have a strategy to make sure that all of your hard work was not in vain. For starters, don’t do any prep work Friday night. Cramming may work for final exams and college, but if you aren’t prepared for the test by the night before, you are in trouble. From personal experience, I can attest to this. Many years ago, I was frantically preparing a new manual for an SAT math class that I was running in New Jersey. I did something I hadn’t done since college – the dreaded “all-nighter”. With the book close to completion, I…

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Timing is everything, isn’t it? With enough time, nearly any result is possible. Yet, failure to plan typically leads to, well, failure. Most of us make the obvious connection between preparing well ahead of time and being fully prepared. Starting early just makes sense. But less obvious are the benefits of starting early in the day. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. They are influenced by sleep patterns and light exposure and, in turn, can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important functions. Getting enough quality sleep and paying attention to our personal rhythms can, in the words of chronobiologist (someone who studies biological rhythms) Steve Kay, “give us an edge in daily life.” How so? For one, mental alertness tends to peak around 10am. Thus, mid-morning may be the best time to engage in activities requiring cognition, concentration,…

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Now that another school year has ended and both students and teachers are looking forward to a much-needed summertime break, the time has come to praise the productive side of “downtime.” Do you ever look at your scribbled-over calendar days, resting your eyes with relief on an upcoming “blank” day when nothing is planned? You are not alone. Our busy world tends to valorize constant activity, but the truth is that taking breaks and having strategic downtime is crucial to doing your best work. Even the Harvard Business Review acknowledges The Upside of Downtime. What is downtime? For most students, the grinding schedule of weekday school hours suddenly melts away in the summer, and the student gains control of his or her time. Jobs, camps, trips, and summer sports begin to provide some structure to the upcoming days, but overall most students have more power to design their own days…

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Optimal performance in sports depends on a carefully-calibrated regimen of skills training, conditioning, nutrition, rest, and coaching. Why should optimal performance in academics and tests be any different? Protein is a powerful driver of peak cognitive function, in large part because neurotransmitter activity in the brain runs on amino acids, which come from protein. The better the fuel, the more efficient our brains operate. In addition, good protein boosts energy, mental clarity, and mood, while helping to manage both pain and stress. Of course, these benefits accrue from good sources of protein. So rather than packing Big Macs and Buffalo wings on test day, be more strategic in your selections. For example, nuts are chock full of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Researchers seem to uncover new benefits to eating nuts every year, from low blood pressure to weight control to longevity. Experts agree that walnuts are particular…

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