Hacking Your Brain

19.09.2019 |

Episode #1 of the course How to boost your studying and test-taking skills by Valeria Shvediuk

Welcome to the course on how to become better at learning and test-taking!

My name is Valeria, and I’m a lifelong learning and test-cracking enthusiast.

At some point in our lives, most of us take tests that measure our knowledge or skills. This could be sitting for an exam at school or university, acquiring a professional certification, or formalizing a new hobby with a license. This process is often associated with long and frustrating hours of study, cramming sessions, and stress. You might also believe that your performance on the tests only reflects your natural abilities and predisposition, which hurts your motivation to prepare for them and ultimately do your best.

It doesn’t have to be this way. No matter your background or innate abilities, you can optimize your learning experience, reduce test-related stress, and significantly improve your results. If you’re planning to take any test, you’ve come to the right place.

In Lessons 2 to 6, we’ll cover ways to enhance your general studying skills and streamline learning processes, including beneficial lifestyle changes. In Lessons 7 to 9, we’ll delve into specific test-preparation and test-taking strategies, as well as techniques to manage test-related stress and anxiety. The final lesson will summarize what we’ve covered in the course and give a prescription for a future test-taking hero.


Superpowers of Your Brain

Let’s have a look at the organ responsible for learning: our brain. The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of understanding its workings. As such, scientists keep discovering new and exciting properties of the brain that we can use to our benefit. In other words, we can “hack” our brain by taking advantage of the way it works. Two seemingly magical brain features, the understanding of which will come in handy later in the course, are the following:

Neurogenesis: This is the brain’s ability to create new cells (neurons). What’s so special about it? This was long believed to be impossible in adulthood before neural stem cells were discovered—your brain may be able to regenerate itself after all! As it turns out, newly generated neurons might play an important role in the formation of new memories and learning [1]. Even if this is still a relatively new area of research, there are demonstrable ways to promote neurogenesis, which we’ll cover in this course.

Neuroplasticity: This is a truly unique quality of your brain. It is able to build new connections between its cells (neural pathways), forget old ones, and continuously rewire itself. Your every thought, habit, or skill is reflected in your brain on a physical level; everyone’s brain is different depending on experiences lived. Musicians, for example, typically have more grey matter in the auditory and motor cortices [2], which likely reflects years of rehearsals. This means we can change our brain’s physical structure and replace our habits at any age by thinking and practicing. It’s just like the man who forced himself to forget how to ride a bicycle by learning to ride a “backward” bicycle instead. So, you can mold yourself a new brain!

Skeptics among you might not be convinced that growing your brain or creating new neural connections translates into increased test scores. You also likely believe that your intelligence is hardwired at birth and fixed for life. Psychologists often differentiate two categories of intelligence: crystallized intelligence (knowledge and skills accumulated over time) and fluid intelligence (ability to think logically and tackle novel problems). While we’re constantly growing our crystallized intelligence, can we also train our fluid intelligence? Yes, increasing evidence says we can [3]! Tune in to the next episodes to learn how and choose a growth mindset instead of a fixed one—you’ll become a test-taking champion in no time.

Daily task: Think of a skill that seemed impossible at first but that you mastered eventually, such as a foreign language, cycling, or solving algebra problems. Find your old notebooks or recordings, if you can, and compare them to where you are today—this is neuroplasticity in action!

See you tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at effective ways to optimize common learning processes.



Recommended book

The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge


Recommended video

The Backward Brain Bicycle



[1] Adult Neurogenesis Conserves Hippocampal Memory Capacity

[2] Art and Science: How Musical Training Shapes the Brain

[3] Increasing Fluid Intelligence Is Possible After All


Share with friends