Wellness & Lifestyle

Make Your Breaks Count

What goes through your mind as you walk out of your last final exam of the semester? Is it relief over the fact that you’ve survived another semester at Berkeley? Excitement about your amazing Winter Break plans? Or perhaps it’s dread over the thought of opening up BearFacts in a couple weeks to check your semester grades?

Whatever your initial feeling is, there seems to be unanimous agreement upon one thing: everyone looks forward to four weeks of no class (this feeling is usually compounded by the fact that the material you’ve crammed into your brain space in preparation for that last final is leaving your mind at an exponential rate).

With that in mind, many of us look forward to four weeks of sleeping in, vegetating on the couch in front of the TV and hours on hours of computer time surfing through Pinterest, Tumblr, BuzzFeed and Facebook. We consciously sweep our critical thinking skills under the metaphorical brain rug to finally give our minds some “me” time. There’s no doubt that it’s good to give yourself a long, well-deserved break after a particularly stressful finals week, but how long is considered too long? Should you really be allowing your brain (read: critical thinking skills) hibernate for the entirety of winter break under the pretense of giving yourself a break?

According to a study published in the Review of Educational Research, critical thinking skills that are required to succeed in a competitive setting like a college classroom or workplace are ones that need to be practiced and applied consistently in order to mature. Analytical skills necessary to comprehend math, physics and sciences have been shown to decline at a faster rate when they aren’t continually being learnt and applied. Researchers from the study showed a startling disparity in standardized test scores collected at the end of summer vacation between students who had participated in intellectually stimulating summer activities and students who had not critically engaged their minds. The difference amounted to an equivalent of one month learning between the two groups of students. “Summer learning loss” is the phrase used to formally describe the phenomenon of decreases in standardized test scores among students following an intellectually bereft break from school. As college students, we get TWO opportunities to potentially suffer from “summer learning loss” because of our month long break following Fall semester and our three month break following Spring semester.

So are we doomed? Should we feel guilty that we are knowingly frying our brains when we sit and watch six hours of Friends reruns? Worry not my fellow Bears, you can keep your critical thinking skills remarkably agile by engaging in any of the following activities:

For the kid who’d rather be playing video games than thinking critically: Download QuizUp, Moxie or Zed’s Alchemy onto your smart phone to simulate a gaming environment while simultaneously keeping your brain engaged.

For the kid who’d rather be on the computer than thinking critically: Try your hand at a few Sporcle trivia puzzles each day or perhaps start writing a blog (shameless plug to encourage you to apply to write for Sather Health).

For the kid who actually wants to think critically over break… Well, I’m positive that your highly functioning brain can come up with a few activities that will keep your mind functioning higher than the rest of ours.

Personally, I applaud anyone who actively creates time during their breaks to improve their reading, reasoning, or writing skills after completing a stressful semester in college, but I also know that I’m not one of those people. When I’m on break, I want it to feel like a break. I want to spend my time catching up with friends and family and enjoying not having to constantly worry about an upcoming problem set or midterm, but I also don’t want to be ignorant of the scientific evidence that shows a clear correlation between idle brains and declining achievement. Researchers suggest that engaging in activities that force you to use reason and logic for as a few hours per week when on extended break helps to reinforce and retain the neural pathways needed for problem-solving and critical reading in our brains. So whether it be getting a head start on next semester’s reading, working on applications for internships and research positions, or playing QuizUp on your iPhone with friends (on topics that actually get you to think…Grey’s Anatomy trivia won’t cut it), make your breaks count.


Article by Madhu Joshi

Feature Image Source: North Penn YMCA