Mindfulness is everywhere these days: mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful breathing. You’ve heard it from your teachers, your aunt, your social media. But what is mindfulness actually? Does it work? And could it even help your test scores?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a current health movement that derives from an ancient practice. In modern society, we have a tendency to go fast, fast, fast, responding to too many stimuli at once, always thinking and racing ahead to the next thing. Sound like high school? Mindfulness asks you to slow down, to stop for even just one moment, and take stock of everything around you.
Modern mindfulness is characterized by an awareness from moment to moment of everything from thoughts, feelings, and sensations to the surrounding environment. The point is to notice and acknowledge everything that is happening, and, rather than letting it overwhelm you, to accept it for what it is (starting to see how this might be helpful in a noisy testing area?).
While the mindfulness movement has gained steam in recent years, its roots lie in Buddhism and Zazen. Mindfulness would (and still can) be used as a component of meditation, acclimating the body and mind to the space one is in and sharpening focus.
There are many types of Mindfulness. and the ways to practice are equally varied, but the most helpful for test takers would be Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Founded by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical center, MBSR has been run through multiple evaluations and yielded promising results:
MBSR alleviated the psychological stress and/or depression of post-secondary students for up to 2 months after an 8 week course.
It can also improve:
Ability to work under stress
Some research indicates that MBSR may also increase self-compassion and self-awareness which leads to an overall healthier mindset and further stress reduction.
While MBSR is a relatively new phenomenon, meditation, practiced both secularly and by religions, has been around for a long time. Research done on long term meditators is delightfully shocking!
Research revealed that long term (8+ week) meditators reduce the activity in the amygdala, even when not meditating. The amygdala is your brain’s fight or flight indicator. Long term meditators literally panic less.
Short term meditators can reduce their stress response in the moment. When experiencing distressing stimuli, beginner meditators were then asked to meditate, resulting in significantly reduced amygdala activity.
Studies performed in concert between scientists and Buddhist monks have also proven that meditation increases attention span and compassion.
Why is this Good for Test Taking?
So, mindfulness calms you, lowers your fight or flight response, helps you avoid unnecessary distractions, and teaches self-compassion. Now, imagine yourself in your testing location:
You’ve studied hard, and you’re a little nervous, but you’ve learned how to breathe and ground yourself in the moment. This calms you and keeps the stress from taking you over. You are in control, not your nerves.
You sit down to work, and you’re ready, you’re focused… but the guy next to you keeps sniffling. Constantly. This might have thrown you off, but you’ve learned how to focus despite extraneous noises and sensations, how to work with them rather than against them.
How to Start
This is the easiest part! There are tons of tutorials and guided meditations for Mindfulness all over the internet, especially YouTube and Spotify. These people have done all the work and planning for you. Just pop on a recording and reap the benefits!