The Physiological Aspects of Standardized Testing
Students often wonder why they fail on exams even when they are well prepared. It is naive to think that there was a brain fart prior to the exam. In this chapter, we will explain the physiology of test taking and advise you as to how to improve your chances for success. The chapter following this will talk about the mental (not studying) aspects of test taking.
Diet is one aspect of the test taking experience that parents and children can easily control. This is hard for most parents to realize, but the diets of most Asian-American children have higher protein, higher complex carbohydrates and significantly lower fat than the typical American diet. What is hard to understand is that test taking stress can be reduced significantly by reducing fats, sugars and caffeine from your kid’s diet.
On standardized testing days in 2003, BeatTheTest observed scores of kids who had not eaten breakfast prior to the exam or had eaten right before they were allowed into the school building. If they had eaten before, it was most likely fast food or a bagel with cream cheese and some milk. Some had an artificially sweetened soda or drink with them. The problem is that the meal that they had before the test will most likely shut their brain off around 10:00 am.
After the body digests what it can in the stomach (simple proteins and simple sugars), it sends all the fat and complex nutrients to the small intestine. Students who ate those two fried eggs with ham and cheese are suddenly feeling heavy when the exam papers are handed out (after 9:15 am). The caffeine and sugar highs are wearing off and they suddenly are feeling depressed. Complex lipids (fat molecules) enter the bloodstream. They race to build up the lagging fuel levels due to the lack of energy. By the time these molecules are metabolized into energy, you are well into another section of the exam. Now 11:00 approaches and suddenly hunger pangs set in. Most parents are not aware that processed flour makes children feel hungry long before they are hungry.
Your child is looking at the question paper and it appears fuzzy. The words seem to be slipping off the page. Neurotransmitter levels have decreased. Lactic acid builds up, and a mild depressive state slowly sets in. “I don’t know this stuff,” she says to herself. The fat from breakfast is being digested. Blood flows to the gastric tract to absorb the huge cholesterol molecules. Light-headedness sets in. And your kid yearns for sleep. Slowly, out of nowhere, hunger pangs set in. The words are now replaced with thoughts of food. Surprise, surprise. Your kid bombed.
Fact: There are few fat kids who do well on standardized testing.
Compare what was described above to the Asian-American students (consisting of Chinese, Indian, and Korean kids) who arrived earlier and who have eaten a low fat, protein-rich meal the night before. They have slept a full eight hours and completed their REM sleep cycle. They have visualized success countless times (see “The Psychological Aspects Of Testing”). They have eaten a hearty breakfast—light in oils and saturated fats.
These kids have departed for the exam with plenty of time to spare and arrive before 8:00 for an exam that takes place at 9:00. When they get to the exam they are not engaging in useless conversation. Very serious students. Very serious about success.
Around 10 A.M., due to the low fat meal they ate, neurotransmitters are at peak levels for test taking. Critical problem solving is enhanced in the brain by the low levels of caffeine in the body. The brain is relaxed and humming. Logic problems are a breeze. The most boring essay reads like Keats on a summer outing. Around 11:00 blood rushes to the small intestine to pick up nutrients. Insulin levels are level. Hunger is not instigated. The liver releases additional glycogen. Balance is maintained. Lactic acid balances are stable. The brain continues to hum. Sweat is released optimally. The exam is over. Guess what? They passed.
Now how are you going to combat these kids if your kid is busy eating french fries and filling himself up with sugar? Well, you can teach your kids new habits, as opposed to chastising them. Teenagers are very malleable. Here is what we recommend:
Diet and Nutrition
Reduce caffeine and sugar intake sixty days prior to exam
Have breakfast earlier in the day
Have lunch later in the day
Keep kids away from second hand cigarette smoke
Exercise at least one half hour per day
Eight hours of sleep per day thirty days prior to exam
The above routine can be set 60 days prior to the exam. That means that by the first week of September, you will need to modify your child’s diet as follows:
Start Reducing Fatty Oils And Processed Flour From Their Diet Gradually.
You will replace them with lighter oils and whole grains. In the first few weeks, they will complain because of the different taste. However, you have watched their calorie intake and it is the same. As a parent, you will have to break the vicious processed flour and sugar habits of your children. This is not like narcotics addiction. However, when your kid complains that they are hungry it is because they are addicted to the sugars in the foods. It will take at least three weeks to wean them off of cakes, cookies and sugar cereals.
Get Your Kids Off Caffeine. It Is A Stimulant That Has Adverse Effects On Critical Reasoning. In Addition, It Can Heighten Panic And Disruptive Thoughts. Caffeine WILL REDUCE Your Child’s Ability To Critically Reason.
Most parents will say that their kids do not drink coffee or tea—so how can they be addicted to caffeine? Caffeine is in most drinks that children imbibe today, and the level of caffeine does not have to be disclosed on the nutrition food labels. If your child drinks 48 to 60 ounces of soft drinks a day, he can easily ingest over 200 mgs of caffeine (enough to induce spontaneous abortion in a pregnant female). Even caffeine-free means that a drink may be 97-98% caffeine free. A twelve-ounce can of cola contains over 50 milligrams of caffeine. Many candies also contain caffeine.
Why is there caffeine in most drinks? Because caffeine is a stimulant and it is highly addictive. Once the stimulant wears off, a mild depressive state sets in. This induces your child to crave more caffeine. That is why your kid wants to drink more soda after they just had a glass. (Here’s an interesting experiment: see how many glasses of water your child will drink, if they only had water to drink?). Unfortunately, the human body is highly resourceful and builds up a natural tolerance for stimulants. Thus, it takes more caffeine to keep your child stimulated as time goes on.
Caffeine upsets the normal sleep cycle of your children, induces fat buildup (and puts cellulite on female thighs), and has mild depressive aspects as well. But worst of all, it does not enhance problem solving ability or critical thinking processes. Rather, it can make a test taker more nervous and irritable.
Caffeine has to be broken down by the liver. Urinating cannot eliminate it. However, the human body is not aware of this and it continually tries to eliminate the pesticide by urination. And it will drive your child to use the bathroom. Using the bathroom during a standardized exam will result in the loss of critical minutes.
You should only reduce your child’s caffeine intake levels if you have at least 60 days prior to the exam date. If this is not the case, do NOT reduce your child’s caffeine intake three weeks or less prior to the actual exam date. Your child may enter a mild depres- sion that may not be resolved prior to the exam.
You are probably asking yourself, “Why don’t the other test services recommend this?” Other test services are ignorant of the effects of caffeine on adolescents. And some of BeatTheTest’s competitors are large media companies whose largest advertisers are the soft drink manufacturers. The fact is that there is not one media company brave enough to stand up to the soft drink manufacturers and ask them why caffeine, a mild pesticide, is continually added to children’s drinks and candies.
Reducing the level of caffeine in your child’s diet can also enhance weight balance as well as significantly reduce the risk of juvenile diabetes and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It amazes us at BeatTheTest that parents do not look at their European and Asian counterparts with respect to disease in children. Children around the world have remarkably lower levels of ADD and juvenile diabetes than American kids. Furthermore, few people outside of the United States have ever seen a 200-pound teenager.
Stop Smoking Cigarettes.
Cigarettes release benzene, nicotine and tar, as well as toxic sulfur and nitrogen compounds. These compounds restrict oxygen uptake in young children, and cause other significant health problems. Benzene and nicotine are known carcinogens as well. More importantly, they reduce capillary dilation, resulting in reduced blood flow to the brain. We firmly believe at BeatTheTest that low cerebral blood flow equals slower problem solving ability.
Have Breakfast Earlier In The Day
Most standardized exams start at 9:00 am. You need to get to the exam by 8:00 am. Unless you live near the testing sites you will need to eat by 7:00 on the day of the exam. The human body cannot react quickly to diet changes, so you will need to trick your body into eating earlier. This way, your child’s body can digest proteins as she is sitting in the exam room.
Please realize that your child’s energy levels will deplete quickly. Your child is a teenager. Her glycogen and energy stores from the previous day will metabolize quickly due to the extreme stress she is under. The only way she will have more energy is to make sure food is being transported from her stomach to the small intestine by 10:00. Children can easily eat at 7:00. However, they can only eat at this time if they have a regular level of sleep.
Sleep Eight Hours A Day Each Day 30 Days Prior To The Exam.
Sleep is very important. It is during sleep that the body grows. It is during sleep that new neurons are built into the brain. New folds also appear in the brain during sleep. These folds act in a similar manner to random access memory (RAM) in a computer. They enable the human computer—the living brain—to process more complex mathematical data. Eight hours of sleep in middle school is absolutely important.
It is imperative that your child enters and exits the full REM cycle of sleep. REM or rapid eye movement sleep is when the brain grows and builds on experience. It is also the realm of your child’s Achievement Mechanism (see “The Psychological Aspects of Testing”, below). This level of sleep cannot be achieved unless the child can actually sleep eight hours a day.
Parents often say that their children cannot sleep eight hours. Children will easily sleep eight hours if you reduce the amount of caffeine and processed flours in their diet. Try it and see how well it works. This is also why most kids cannot wake up on time the day of the exam.
Get Thirty Minutes Worth Of Vigorous Exercise Each Day
Exercise can help the body eliminate toxins as well as poisonous thoughts. It can also assist in maintaining optimal levels of Achievement Mechanism-oriented neurotransmitters in the brain. This will permit clearer thinking and more efficient blood flow to the brain. Thirty minutes of basketball, baseball, dancing, fast-walking or bicycle riding is sufficient. Exercise will also tire your child, and it will enable him to fall asleep on time in the evening.
Your child, however, will not get tired if he continues to drink caffeinated drinks after exercising.
Push Lunch Out To 1:00 pm
The reason for this is that your kids need to build discipline for the exam. They cannot eat when they feel hungry during the exam. If your child feels hungry during the exam, she will perform poorly. Most kids, when they get hungry, panic and get frustrated. So help them out. Teach them to eat earlier in the day and to eat lunch later. This can also help break compulsive eating habits.