For the majority of my educational career, the end of class went something like read chapter 7 by Thursday and review the questions at the end of chapter review. Getting through the chapter usually took at least an hour, and by the time I was done there was no way I had any interest in looking at any of the end of the chapter questions. While this is not the point of this particular blog, it does seem that a good textbook reading strategy would be to go over those questions before you start reading the chapter. The person who wrote the book almost surely wrote those questions, and it would help to alert your mind as to what that author thinks is important.

It ends up that reading that chapter from beginning to end no matter how long it takes is not the best strategy for learning the material. If you don’t want to read about the basics of how your brain works, just know that especially for new or challenging material, you should probably take a three to five minute break for every 20 to 30 minutes of studying.

For new information to become memory, it must pass through the amygdala (emotional filter) and then reach the prefrontal cortex. Feeling anxious or overwhelmed eventually leads the amygdala to reach capacity for letting new information into the pre frontal cortex. Brain breaks should be planned to allow the amygdala to return to its optimal state.

Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that carry messages from one nerve cell to the next across gaps between the cells called synapses. Neurotransmitters are in limited supply and can deplete in as little as ten minutes. Your neurotransmitters might be depleting just as you read this. Brain breaks, which essentially means switching the type of mental activity, can shift brain communication to networks with fresh supplies of neurotransmitters.

As I said earlier, generally speaking 20 to 30 minutes of studying calls for 3 to 5 minute breaks. These breaks should be something like physical activity, something that produces laughter, or listening to music. The key is to keep it to three to five minutes and then go back to studying for another 20 to 30 minutes.

Please remember that this applies to learning new information. If you are studying something you already know a lot about, you can probably go for much longer. In standardized exams, many of us have knowledge gaps that make the exam quite challenging. The fact that there are knowledge gaps means that we can feel overwhelmed very quickly. This is where it is important to remember to take brain breaks. Brain breaks also fit very nicely into how our app works, which is to try to take advantage of little pockets of time where you are not doing much of anything (waiting in line, for example).