I came across this question while researching for the best exam preparation food and was wondering whether there is any truth to it.

Can you improve your test performance by chewing gum? A study shows that chewing gum can improve tour test scores. The improvements were minimal but measurable during the first 20 minutes of an exam when the students had chewed a gum before the test. Chewing a gum during the test was rather counterproductive.

But how does this work and why is the time limited to the first minutes of the test? Let’s take a closer look what the effects of chewing gum are.

The effects of chewing gum on exam preparation

A team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University conducted the following experiment: 224 students were divided into 3 groups

  • Chewing gum before and during the test
  • Chewing gum only 5 minutes before the exam
  • Nothing to chew at all

But what is the explanation for this especially because the first group even chewed during the hole exam? 

Then they had to conduct 6 different types of tests. Only the group that had the gum before the experiment showed an improvement in their test scores. Though it was a huge improvement they still could outperform the other two groups. The researchers noticed that the advantages were only measurable within the first 20 minutes of the test. After that, the group that chewed gum before showed no difference in performance from the others. The second thing the experiment showed was that the improvements primarily happened with recall and memory tasks so the chewers won 5 of the 6 test categories. In the last one where they were asked to name as many animals as they could, they were not better than the other groups. Serge Onyper, who was responsible for the research concluded that chewing gum increases arousal – or in more scientific terms: “Mastication-induced arousal”. This basically means that chewing gum jumpstarts your brain by increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and cerebral blood flow. So why did the group that kept on chewing did not show any of those positive effects? The researchers speculated that chewing and especially focusing on chewing might end up as a distraction and possibly consumes more energy than it frees up for additional brainpower. By the way, the research also showed that it doesn’t make any difference whether you use a sugar free gum or not

While the research suggests that only chewing before an exam actually makes a difference some other advice I found is to use this knowledge to give you a brainpower boost even during the exam whenever you need it. Usually, during a test, you do several runs of the questions and leave the tricky ones for last. Before you tackle these a quick 5 minutes chewing gun infusion might restart your thinking engine. I will definitely bring a pack of gums with me next time I sit for an exam. Since it doesn’t seem to make things worse it can either help or just provide you with fresh breath during the test. But of course, don’t rely on chewing gum as your savior. Read the test centers policies on food during their tests to make sure you are not violating any of their rules.

What are the disadvantages of chewing gum

Chewing gum (especially with sugar) has its disadvantages as well. If you chew too much gum during a test you might get hungry. This is, of course, a very distracting feeling to avoid during a test particularly if you didn’t bring anything to satisfy your cravings. But why is that? Chewing gum has long been believed to suppress appetite. Recent research could actually not produce any evidence of that, on the contrary, the act of chewing tricks the body in expecting food to arrive in your stomach soon. This is even more severe if you haven’t had a proper meal. So before you go to your test make sure you have your healthy breakfast so you don’t run out of energy.

Does chewing gum help you with anxiety?

A study about the effect of chewing gum on dealing with anxiety compared a group of people that chewed gum for 14 days to a group of non-chewers. The found out that the level of anxiety and fatigue was reduced significantly compared to the control group. In light of this result if you are dealing with exam fear this might be worth trying. Still, in my experience, the best method to deal with test anxiety is to be sure you will pass which you can achieve through excellent preparation. Then, after the first run of going through the questions and knowing the easy ones immediately, I gain high confidence which keeps anxiety down for the tricky ones.

Can the effect be increased by chewing caffeine gum?

There are a variety of caffeine gums available (Read my article about coffee and exam preparation for more caffeine stories). The strongest ones with 100mg caffeine on Amazon are Plow On Energy Gum and Military Energy Gum (as the name indicates originally for the military also available for the public now).  The biggest complaint from customers was that they lose their taste very quickly an unpleasant caffeine flavor remains. This might actually exactly be what people want. I personally never tried them – I am not really a regular chewing gum fan.

Related questions

Does chewing gum make you smarter? No, chewing gum does not make you smarter. It increases your alertness and improves your mood and as discussed above can help you focus at the beginning of a test but there are no studies that suggest that long-term chewing actually improves your intelligence.

Does chewing gum reduce stress? This study has shown that people who regularly chew gum experience a reduced level of everyday stress. During an extensive study period, chewing gum might help to deal with the side effects of intensive learning.

Does the flavor of chewing gum you use have any influence on the test scores? I could not find a believable research that supported that different types of chewing gum had different effects. As mentioned above the sugar content did not change the result so it is likely to believe that the flavor as well has no impact though one micro-experiment with 12 students suggested the stringest tasting peppermint gum had the best test result.

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Michael Borgers

I’m the author of “How to Sell your Photos Online” and “The Secret of Passing your HSK Chinese Level 1 Exam”. I created a cross-platform App to pass exams, several websites, and I sell photos on Microstock websites. In summary, I’m a passionate passive income freelancer who gave up his 9-5 Job at Hewlett-Packard years ago.

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