HSC Exams: 15 Brain-Boosting Foods To Keep Your Teen Smart

Teacher watching over teenagers in classroom

In New South Wales, more than 70,000 students began answering their Higher School Certificate exams yesterday, prompting many across the academia to aim for exceptional marks.

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) is the highest award in secondary education in New South Wales. In order for students to be eligible for the award, they must complete Years 11 and 12, meet HSC course requirements, and take the HSC statewide examinations.

The month-long batch of exams will put their knowledge and memory skills to the test. English exams go first for the morning, followed by Japanese and Modern Hebrew to end the first day of tests.

While Education Minister Adrian Piccoli stressed the importance of the exam, he also stated how students needed to understand that the HSC isn’t the only method that will pave a way to university offers and a professional career.

“When students are doing their exams they should concentrate on doing as well as they can,” he said. “But if they are disappointed with the result, there are plenty of ways to achieve your goals in life other than just the HSC.”

With a lot riding on these tests, students are ultimately pressured to study hard — harder than the average school exam.

To help students better focus during study sessions, here are some foods that can help stimulate the brain, especially during examinations as important as the Higher School Certificate:


Cashew Nuts

Considered ‘brain food,’ cashews are high in magnesium, which can ‘open up’ the blood vessels in your body, including those in your brain. Like any organ, the brain operates better when it is nourished by oxygen-rich blood.

Dried Fruit

While the brain may operate on sugar, it must be absorbed in a steady and moderate amount, else the brain gets overwhelmed. Fiber helps slow down this absorption, and dried fruits — such as raisins, dates, prunes, and apricots — are rich in fiber and are great study snacks.


Peanut Butter

Research shows that a person who takes a high-protein breakfast performs better on mental tasks throughout the day. Peanut butter, a rich source of protein and vitamins B3 and folate, also helps regulate cholesterol, which keeps blood vessels healthy.


Besides being a good source of vitamins for the bones, milk may also be a great study buddy when it comes to memory tests. A study published in the International Dairy Journal showed adults who consistently consumed dairy products performed better in memory tests than non-consumers. A warm glass of milk can also help for a good night’s sleep before an exam.

Oily Fish

Oily fish — such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers — contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in ready-made form, making it easier for the body to digest. These omega-3 fatty acids are good for healthy brain function, the heart, joints, and overall wellbeing.



Recent research suggests compounds — known as flavonoids — found in blueberries may improve memory, learning and general cognitive function — including reasoning skills, decision making, verbal comprehension, and numerical ability.

Whole Grains

A steady supply of energy — in the form of glucose in blood delivered to the brain — makes for good concentration and focus. Whole grains — like cereal, granary bread, and brown pasta — help release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day.


Dark Chocolate

Compounds in dark chocolate help boost memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving skills by increasing blood flow to the brain. A study at Harvard Medical School also found increased blood flow to the brain for 2-3 hours after consuming two cups of hot chocolate. This boost in blood flow improved scores on a working memory speed test by 30%.


Eggs are rich in choline, a B vitamin-like nutrient. When you consume eggs, your brain uses choline to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that may be important for maintaining memory and communication among brain cells.



Like blueberries, avocados work well in promoting good brain health. While it is a fatty fruit, it has monounsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow, therefore contributing to a healthy brain. Avocados also lower blood pressure.

Olive Oil

Nutrition data shows olive oil to be a good source of vitamins E and K. Vitamin E, especially together with vitamin C, works to maintain good memory, slow down memory loss, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Meanwhile, vitamin K boosts your brain processing speed, as well as help keep your brain sharp as you age.


A study showed people who consumed yogurt — particularly with probiotics — showed a different degree of cognitive responsiveness than those who had non-fermented yogurt or who did not consume yogurt at all. Other benefits from yogurt include calcium — helping prevent osteoporosis — and controlled blood pressure.


Consuming spinach may help slow the process of age-associated cognitive decline, thanks to its being rich in vitamin K. Spinach is also potentially anti-inflammatory and contains antioxidants and phytochemicals that help improve blood flow, leading to better brain performance.



Parts of the brain that are linked to learning, memory, planning, and other cognitive functions may decline as you age. Aged garlic extract may play a role in protecting your brain against function loss, as shown by its ability to increase cognitive functions, memory, and longevity. Garlic can also help protect against brain cancer and helps promote blood flow regulation.


Water provides the brain with electrical energy for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes. With a full reserve of water, you will be able to think faster, experience greater clarity and creativity, and become more focused on your tasks. Other health benefits of keeping hydrated include healthy skin, energized muscles, and better bowel function.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

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About the author

Regina is a Fine Arts graduate who expresses herself through various mediums. She finds amusement in pop culture, enjoys video games, and watches way too many YouTube videos on a daily basis.