There is much we don’t yet understand about memory and learning. The complexity of the brain is mind boggling stuff and yet supporting good cognitive function is vital for more than eight million school pupils and over two million university students in education this year, many of whom will be sitting tests or exams.
Some of the newest research focuses on the role that sleep and exercise play. Studies show children’s attention and memory improve following physical exercise, enhancing their ability to learn. Others show that sleep allows the brain to update knowledge and adapt memories for future experiences.
Parents concerned their children are playing too many computer games may be interested in the findings of a study which showed playing video games increased brain activity in areas relevant to learning. Participants who played games regularly were better at analysing situations more quickly, as well as generating knowledge and categorising facts – all essential skills in the learning environment.
In terms of revision itself, it seems that students may also benefit from reading their work aloud, which reinforces it in the memory – vital at this time of year when exams or tests are looming. As well as exercise and sleep, we know the brain itself relies on nutrients and fuel to perform optimally. B vitamins, for example, are crucial for mental performance and supplementing with folic acid, B5, B6 and B12 can have positive effects on some measures of cognition. B5 alongside choline and acetyl-l-carnitine may also be useful for supporting levels of acetylcholine - a vital neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Correcting a vitamin D deficiency may also be key to supporting cognition. Vitamin D is known to influence the growth, development and survival of neurons – primary components of the brain and nervous system.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also vital. The brain’s grey matter contains high proportions of DHA, which is known to be integral to neurological development and learning.