Can Coffee Boost Test Performance? Proceed with Caution!

imagesA recent article on discussed the benefits of a bit of caffeine to “sharpen performance across an astonishing range of tasks.”  Stephen Braun, author of Buss: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, believes that coffee works best when individuals are already rested.  He maintains that sleep deprivation negates the benefits of caffeine.

Moreover, too high a dose of the stimulant may actually impede performance, so a “just right” amount is crucial. In a study at Johns Hopkins University in 2014, Dr. Michael Yassa found that subjects who received the equivalent of two cups of coffee demonstrated enhanced memory over a 24 hour period.  Yet he warns that people react differently, so there “no universal ideal dose.”

What does this mean for test takers facing hours of the ACT or SAT? Of course, the best strategies for performing well on academic tasks include sufficient sleep (The Center for Disease Control recommends nine hours of sleep for teens.), good nutrition, moderate physical activity, and efficient study habits.  They should also be mindful that the brain thrives on glucose. In fact, according the textbook, Biochemistry: Fifth Edition, “Glucose is virtually the sole fuel for the human brain.  The brain lacks fuel stores and hence requires a continuous supply of glucose.”  Glucose is easily utilized by nearly all cells of the body for energy. An example of a beverage with a high glucose content is orange Gatorade.  So, drinking a glucose drink during a test period may aid focus.  It is important to note that all sugars are not the same. For example, fruit juices contain fructose, which the body absorbs differently.  These are not as beneficial as glucose drinks.

Keeping these facts in mind, test-takers may decide to include ONE cup of coffee with a hearty, nutritious breakfast, and bring along a glucose drink to sip during testing breaks.




Leave a Reply