Any serious student of test preparation can attest that the road to peak performance on test day can be grueling. But earning your very best test scores makes the struggle and sacrifice worthwhile. As Serena Williams said, “Victory is very, very sweet. It tastes better than any dessert you’ve ever had.”
But if you do it right, you may be able to enjoy a little dessert on the way to victory…
Proper nutrition makes a massive difference any time the moment demands your best. One of the most important items on your checklist when packing (the night before, naturally) for your SAT or ACT has to be food. The right snacks will support you in the stretch, while the wrong ones will undermine your effort. Obviously, you want to bring healthy snacks like nuts and fruit, but save a little room for something sweet, as long as you like chocolate.
What’s so great about chocolate, beside its insanely delicious flavor? Some chocolate can actually be good for you. In fact, back in the 12th century, chocolate was first used as a medicine and tonic. Not only does chocolate induce positive effects on mood, modern research supports some cognitive benefits of chocolate consumption that anyone sitting for high stakes tests should appreciate.
In 2007, a researcher concluded that eating chocolate could help to sharpen up the mind and give a short-term boost to cognitive skills. Specifically, he found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols boosted blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours. Dark chocolate happens to be rich in flavanols, as are blueberries, green tea and red wine; guess which one of these items we don’t recommend for test day.
Another study links chocolate intake with better cognitive function. Among a group of nearly 1000 participants, those reporting more chocolate consumption showed better memory and abstract thinking. Still more studies support acute improvement of visual and cognitive function linked to the consumption of cocoa flavanols. Is there anything that chocolate can’t do?
The key, of course, is to ingest the right kind of chocolate in the right way at the right time. Demolishing a gallon of New York Super Fudge Chunk right before you sit down for a big exam will undoubtedly lead to an unsuccessful and probably uncomfortable experience. The only type of chocolate linked to cognitive benefits is dark chocolate, specifically when the first ingredient listed is cacao or chocolate liquor, rather than some form of sugar. You may like milk chocolate better, but that should be saved for after your test. On the topic of timing, the short term impacts of chocolate seem to last 2-3 hours, which makes a small bar or chunk of dark chocolate a perfect accompaniment to additional healthy snacks during the 10-minute break built into both the SAT and ACT.
Working through a marathon testing session while bringing your best to every question requires tremendous amounts of will. Willpower basically runs on sugar, which means you have to feed it or risk fading out. Sure, you can find all kinds of foods rich in antioxidants and flavanoids, but few of them taste anywhere as good as dark chocolate. Your victory–in the form of superior test scores–will be very sweet indeed, but there’s no harm in savoring a taste on test day.