An hour of "mindfulness training" for eight days in a row saw students performing better on the Graduate Record Examinations (GREs) as well as working memory and mind-wandering tests according to a recent study.

Even though television and the internet are probably destroying our attention spans and working memories, most companies continue to want employees who are capable of focusing.  Then there are the admissions departments at institutions of higher learning who insist on using standardized test scores.

Although improving one's memory and the ability to focus can take years of concentration, most people find it important to get the most out of the abilities they currently have.

A study at the University of California at Santa Barbara utilized 48 undergraduate students by having them take either a mindfulness class or a nutrition class.  The classes met for 45 minutes four times a week for two weeks.

The classes were taught by "professionals with extensive teaching experience in their respective fields."  The mindfulness class was used to emphasize the physical posture and mental strategies of focused-attention meditation.

Students were required to integrate mindfulness into their daily routines and to complete 10 minutes of meditation daily outside of the classroom.  Participants sat on cushions in a circle  during class, with each class consisting of 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness exercises to focus the attention on a particular aspect of sensory experience such as the taste of a piece of fruit, the sounds of an audio recording or the sensations caused by breathing.

Students in both of the classes took the GRE - the standardized tests considered taken to be considered for graduate school application) before the two-week class and after.

The students' scores improved noticeably in the mindfulness-trained group, but did not do so in the nutrition-trained group. The average GRE verbal scores of the mindfulness group increased from 460 to 520 in just two weeks.  This group also improved on tests of focus (they had less unrelated thoughts regarding tasks) and their working memory was increased.

The implications from this study suggest that taking time to think about breathing, posture and such factors can be helpful to overall cognitive functioning.  In essence, this is the opposite of spending many hours in a library studying while overcome with anxiety. 

The GRE prep course is available for $1,299 and is being purchased by many people.  For those who cannot afford the course, meditation could possibly have a similar result.

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