I recently became interested in using mindfulness to combat stress and reduce anxiety in order to increase my academic performance. But could mindfulness techniques straight up improve testing ability? An article from the Huffington post makes this claim, citing a “new study that shows mindfulness could help students perform better on tests by boosting their memory and comprehension skills”. I found this quite interesting and wanted to take a deeper look at the research.
In this study done by Michael D. Mrazek, participants were randomly placed in a two week mindfulness class or a nutrition class for two weeks. The mindfulness class taught physical and mental strategies that helped people focus on the present moment. Participants were told to use this strategy throughout each day, and when they had of interrupting or intrusive thoughts. To test progress and difference between the experimental and control groups, the participants were assessed on a working memory capacity task as well as the verbal reasoning section of the GRE before and after the two week classes. The results were significant, showing that people who received mindfulness training had improved accuracy on the GRE and higher working memory capacity compared to the control group in the nutrition class. Analyses were run to conclude that the difference could be explained in part by the reduced mind-wandering during the tasks, a result of mindfulness training.
In a journal article for the Association for Psychological Science, Mrazek discussed the significance of his study, saying “Even with a rigorous design and effective training program, it wouldn’t be unusual to find mixed results, but we found reduced mind-wandering in every way we measured it and improved performance on both reading comprehension and working memory capacity.” Additionally the article reported that the same researches estimated that mindfulness training could result in an average 16 percentile point boost on the GRE!
In conclusion, this study supports the research hypothesis that ”Mindfulness training improved both GRE reading-comprehension score and working memory capacity while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of distracting thoughts during completion of the GRE”.
I found another peer reviewed article that is a systematic review of neuropsychological findings on the topic of mindfulness training and cognitive ability. It reviewed 23 studies on the topic and found that overall these studies showed “preliminary support for the notion that MMPs could provide significant benefits on several measures of cognition.”
Given this information, perhaps a new study tip would be to engage in mindfulness exercises each day before starting to study. Mindfulness allows you to focus on the present moment and encourages the dismissal of distracting thoughts. This could help you on tests, but also daily as you study for them. It goes without saying, if you are better able to concentrate while you are studying, you will remember more content. So, try out this guided mindfulness exercise before your next study session and let me know how it goes!