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June 2, 2020

Finals Health Series: High water intake is linked to better exam scores

By SHIRLEY MARINO LEE | December 5, 2019

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With finals approaching, many Hopkins students dedicate themselves to studying and forget about other vital activities that not only help their health but can also improve their test performance. One such activity is water consumption.

Water intake is vital while studying because it makes up about 73 percent of the human brain. According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, an adult male needs about three liters (3.2 quarts) per day while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) per day to remain hydrated. 

This water does not need to come in a cup since there are plenty of foods that have a high water content, such as watermelon and soup. However, while this might make coffee seem like a good option because it is made with water and helps a person remain alert, coffee is not the most effective source of water. This is because caffeine is a mild diuretic that causes a person’s kidneys to expel sodium and water through urine.

The consumption of water can aid in memory formation and information recall. A research study by David Benton and Naomi Burgess at the University of Wales suggested that water intake improved memory and attention in children. Their study consisted of testing children by asking them to recall previously presented objects on days on which they had consumed water while learning and days on which they had not. They found that the children were more likely to recall the information they had been attempting to learn on the days they had consumed water. Similarly, a study at Ohio University by Julie Suhr and colleagues found a relation between hydration status and recall of two types of memory — declarative and working memory. Declarative memories are those that can be explicitly stated while working memories are short-term and are important for reasoning and behavior. 

This study measured the memory of older adults with differing levels of hydration through the use of listening and recall tasks such as the Auditory Verbal Learning Test and Auditory Consonant Trigrams. After examining their data, this group of researchers concluded that better hydration led to better information recall. 

Furthermore, water consumption during exams has been linked to better performance. In 2012, a group of researchers at the University of East London and the University of Westminster conducted a study aimed at determining whether bringing water into an exam aided in the student’s performance. They recorded the scores of 447 undergraduate students and whether they had water during their exam. Overall, their results suggested that those who took water into the examination room performed better than those who did not. 

In an interview with ScienceDaily, Chris Pawson, one of the lead researchers of the study, expressed that water consumption may have a physiological effect on thinking functions and that it may help alleviate anxiety.

During an interview with The News-Letter, junior Public Health major Reuben Park expressed his opinion on the importance of water consumption.

“It is a common yet often overlooked practice, but water is essential for our health. Water allows performance of basic functions, such as breathing, sweating and digestion, and also helps to flush out toxins, transport nutrients and maintain body temperature,” he said.

Park also emphasized the negative effects of dehydration on student performance and mood. 

“Dehydration often leads to symptoms of fatigue, irritation and inability to concentrate on studying. When I do not consume water for a few hours, I feel less energized and feel more fatigued in general,” he stated.

Likewise, Carina Cain, a sophomore Molecular and Cellular Biology major, shared her experience with dehydration. 

“A lack of water consumption would make my performance worse as it would make me feel lethargic,” she said in an interview with The News-Letter. 

Both students gave suggestions of ways for students to stay hydrated while studying for finals. 

“Students should take a reusable water bottle wherever they go so that they can easily fill it up at the water fountains,” Cain said.

Park agreed that students should carry reusable water bottles. He also suggested eating fruits with high water content as snacks. 

“Students can stay hydrated by carrying water bottles and fruits with high water content such as watermelon in plastic bags. For those who don’t carry around water bottles or snacks, it would also be helpful to take study breaks to the water fountain,” Park said.

In light of the physiological and psychological benefits of water intake, Park stressed his hope that students will not neglect this important practice.

“Students often overlook their health while studying hard for finals, yet drinking a lot of water may be one way to help keep us healthy and strong in the midst of the struggle,” he said.

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