When the exam season dawns upon students, late nights turn into early mornings and the dreaded fear that cramming will not be enough to scrape a pass becomes all too real. Alongside the ordinary exam habits of getting enough sleep and eating well, trying out a cultural remedy or two can’t hurt.
Baadaam: Blanched Almonds
This Indian tradition encapsulates every weekday morning in school when my grandma would give us skinned almonds to chew during the car ride. “Chew on them until it becomes like toothpaste and swallow it; it’ll make you smarter,” is what my dad told me.
To remove the skin of almonds, pour warm water over a handful of almonds in a bowl and soak them overnight. The following morning, peel the skin off and drain out the water. As this tradition goes, eat seven almonds a day and you will become intelligent!
Puasa Mutih: White Fasting
Travelling to Indonesia, puasa mutih will repel evil spirits and awaken your inner spirit to strengthen your mind for the exam block. Translating literally to white fasting, this diet consists of only white food and liquid prior to an exam, so you best stock up on rice, boiled eggs, white bread and milk. Its origins trace back to spiritual Kejawèn beliefs in Java, where fasting cleanses the soul and wards off evil. This concept of fasting to cleanse and purify the body has been taken into modern context as a way of preparing for exams.
Miyeokguk: Seaweed Soup
In Korea, students avoid seaweed soup, miyeokguk, before an exam because it is believed that its slippery consistency lets knowledge slip from your mind. However, seaweed has minerals that support cognitive functions and are great because of its nutritional value. It has become common for mothers across Malaysia to feed seaweed soup to their children before sitting for exams. So you may need to take your chances with this one.
Ward off the Devil
If the devil on your shoulder is telling you to binge-watch a TV show the night that an assessment is due, you might want to spit over your left shoulder three times and knock on wood. The idea of spitting on the devil is prevalent across many cultures and religions, namely Russians, Jews, Islamics and Greeks.
Za’atar: Spice Mix
For centuries across the Middle East, parents have fed their children za’atar, dried herb spice mix, before exams because it was believed to make you more intelligent. This belief has been proven to have some accuracy. The nutrients, oils and antioxidants in za’atar are effective for improving memory retention, energy levels and your overall mood. Mix za’atar with olive oil, spread onto some warm flatbread, and you can sit your exam in a good mood!
In Sri Lanka, barley is believed to have a number of benefits, from soothing sore throats to warding off the evil. Cooked barley is not only believed to make you smarter, but is also said to give your face a natural glow. Prepare the barley just like rice, bringing it to a boil before reducing heat and simmering with a lid for 20 to 40 minutes (depending on the type of barley you use).
Buddhi Vardhak: Yoghurt and Sugar
Just before you sit for an exam, eat a spoonful of yogurt with sugar. Ayurveda (a medicinal system in India) suggests that foods with sweetness help long term memory and cognitive capabilities, also referred to as Buddhi Vardhak. So, if you are taking a spoonful of yoghurt, do not skip out on the sugar!
If these remedies have worked for hundreds of years across the world, I think we can all benefit from a bit of za’atar, cooked barley and boiled egg. But, just before you write an absurd grocery list to get ready for this exam season, I will share my grandfather’s advice; study thoroughly.