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How to Improve Memory and Concentration

By Karen Nunez

Depending on your personal background, education, and level of experience, you could be required to sit for quite a few different exams, ensuring your journey through the immigration and qualification process in Canada.

Knowing how to improve your memory for these exams is a great way to improve your passing scores.

ITDs moving to Canada for a new career face favorable situations because the demand is so high.

Nearly three-quarters of Canadians visit the dentist at least once a year, that is almost 30 million people. The only way to keep up with that need is to invite ITDs to go through the process of becoming fully qualified in Canadian dentistry.

While our website is primarily focused on providing the details for every step you may take along your journey, we also want to ensure we offer valuable tips and insights to help you overcome roadblocks.

You could be the greatest dentist in the world, but if you suffer from stress or anxiety during your tests, you may risk a brand new life in one of the most welcoming and beautiful countries in the world.

That is why we would like to focus on how to improve memory and concentration so you can feel better equipped during your tests.

This will help you pass tests and inform the way you view memory for the rest of your life.

Also, Check Out

 ♦   How to Become a Dentist in Canada (A Step by Step Guide)
 ♦   How to Prepare for TOEFL Test in Canada

Why Memory and Concentration Matter

It may seem logical to improve both concentration and memory, but we wanted to differentiate between the two of them.

This is critical because it shows two valuable skills instead of a generalized term. Concentration and memory work together inside your brain, but they do not lead to one another. When you are concentrating, you are focusing your mental efforts on a specific problem. Memory is different because that is the ability to recall information.

The point of this differentiation is that good concentration will enhance memory.

You need to practice skills that involve both. If all you do is focus on memory, you maybe be able to pull up all kinds of information that you reviewed, but without the concentration to apply such knowledge in a clear, logical, and concise way, you kind of defeat the purpose.

Thinking Outside the Box

When we consider what will help to improve your memory, you need to address the same issues that often afflict people in cognitive decline.

It may seem strange, but many of the activities doctors prescribe to those growing older or facing dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc., also improve a healthy younger mind.

As we move through this list of how to improve memory and concentration, allow yourself to think a little outside the box. It does not take great leaps of faith or expensive trainers to improve your mental retention and focus.

If you integrate some of these core concepts in your daily life, you will most likely begin to experience benefits faster than overwhelming yourself during a critical point in your career.

The most significant health killer to anyone is excessive stress. Be easy on yourself and use this advice as a guide to help, not a “must do or else you will fail” kind of situation. Our goal is to help, not overwhelm.

The Key Essential to Improving Memory and Concentration

1 - Train Your Brain

An excellent study in 2015 that even as little as 15 minutes of brain training a day could mean the difference between full awareness of your facilities to “brain fog” where your memory slips.

Study participants showed remarkable improvements in processing speed, short-term memory, working memory, problem-solving, and fluid reasoning assessments - all attributes you would want when taking exams as an ITD interested in being a dentist in Canada.

The good news is that brain games do not have to be overly technical. You can see many examples on the website Luminosity that range from simple matching games to complex food delivery simulations.

The point is to engage your brain in memory-based games that reward success and techniques. This could even be something as simple as a crossword puzzle or Sudoku in your local newspaper.

2 - Train Your Body

ITDs are probably already aware of what a poor diet can do to the body. It does not take a great leap of understanding to know that too much sugar, fried food, or other over-processed items lead to lethargy and slow mental capacities.

Regular exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline.

It protects your brain by stimulating blood flow and engaging your entire body. No, you do not need to suddenly become a bodybuilder or extreme sports expert on top of being a successful dentist.

However, going for a walk for 20 minutes a day, hitting the dance floor, biking, swimming, or even doing yoga are all excellent ways to get the body moving and bring the mind along for the ride.

There is a secondary benefit that we should point out as well - anxiety.

The immigration process can be stressful because there are so many things you have to remember and do perfectly, or else it is back to the end of the line. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to naturally lower your anxiety and depression factors.

The endorphins released by something as simple as an afternoon walk through the park have dramatic effects on your mood, emotional well-being, chemical processes in your body, and ability to think clearly.

3 - Meditation

Go talk to any successful person in the world, and you are bound to find some form of meditation in their lives.

The author and podcast superstar Tim Ferris (4 Hour Work Week) actually points this out in his work with high-income earners and innovators from all over different industries. One of the few common themes in their lives is setting aside as little as 10-20 minutes a day for mediation.

Mindfulness meditation improves memory, and brain function reduces brain degeneration, and improves working and long-term memory.

Making a habit of meditation actually physically changes the brain by increasing brain plasticity.

This is precisely the function that monks use to withstand sharp nail beds, endure extreme temperature, and a list of nearly mythic feats, not through superhero strength, but with razor-like focus attained through meditation.

There are some excellent free resources on YouTube and through App Stores where you can have guided or timed meditation.

You also do not need any equipment and a little space where you can sit comfortably undisturbed for a small amount of time.

4 - Get Some Sleep!

Anyone working in the medical field understands how sleep affects performance.

Not only do we see patients who can barely function without a decent amount of sleep, but we have also all seen our peers struggle through dentistry school on only a few hours of study instead of quality sleep.

Sleep is vital to overall brain health. Without the body’s natural ability to rejuvenate processes through quality sleep, you can expect lower cognitive capabilities.

On average, an adult should seek out 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every single night. This is how your brain will create and store memories.

This also affects mood. We have all been there when a lack of sleep results in us snapping at those we love just because we are overtired.

The last thing you want to do is walk into a proctored exam and start snapping at the instructor.

You want to stay calm and allow your mental powers to kick into full gear.

Getting a good night’s sleep is an excellent way to increase the chances of passing your test.

5 - Quality of Food

Of course, eating healthy leads to many improvements in body function and capability, but we should address the specific effects of high sugar and increased caloric intake. High caloric intake leads to memory impairment.

This can place an undue inflammation effect on the brain, decreasing your ability to recall memories.

Sugar is no better. Try to limit or cut out sugary drinks, excessive ice cream, or anything else that may only temporarily give you an energy boost. Stick to fresh fruits as your sugar high instead of sodas and chocolate delights.

6 - Drink Your Coffee

Everything is in moderation. In 2014, a study found that 200mg of caffeine resulted in better recall testing compared to others without the caffeine boost.

This does not mean you should be shoveling green tea or gallons of hot coffee into your body. However, when taken at strategic times before a test, you should experience a slight increase in your abilities.

7 - Dark Chocolate is Okay

The only contradiction to our sugar advice from above relates to dark chocolate. The bitter joy of 72% cocoa or higher actually improves your spatial memory testing.

This is because cocoa flavonoids improve blood flow to the brain. Again, this does not mean you should immediately go out and buy a bull box of dark chocolate and then go nuts some weekend night. It means a small square (about 1.5” x 1.5”) a day can help you boost your mind.

Dark chocolate is also an excellent source of antioxidants and helps cure your sugar fix without tipping the scale when you get out of the shower.

8 - Study Your Errors

This is actually one of the more interesting items on our list. We know that seeing what answers we get right and wrong on a test is almost compulsive action.

However, if we actively study what led to our wrong answers, we lower the chance of making the same mistake twice.

When we revisit a task, we create a memory of the correct answer and the errors that led up to the incorrect answer.

Learning a next similar task actually becomes more manageable because we already know what errors led up to the problems with the first.

Think of this as having a personal coach inside your mind that points out the errors you made so you can overcome them in the future.

There are plenty of other considerations for improving your test-taking ability, but these are the essentials that will almost guarantee a better result.

9 - Use Healthy and Beneficial Supplements

There are many safe over-the-counter supplemental options for improving your memory and concentration.

We always advise speaking with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement, especially because you have advanced medical training, which tends to leave a blind spot with our personal health.

You need to be a little careful because there are so many varieties of supplements out there promising significant results without having the evidence to support their claims.

However, we have found a shortlist of supplements that help with brain health and give a natural boost to your test-taking abilities.

  ♦ Ginseng enhances brain function by fighting off fatigue. It also has antioxidant properties that can keep your blood sugar levels in check, so you relax during your test.

  ♦ Fish Oil, specifically Omega-3, is an excellent boost for your overall brain and mental health. This helps prevent memory loss and has the added bonus of lowering cholesterol levels.

  ♦ N-Acetyl L-Cysteine is on the fence a little because the science is not yet solid, but you can expect a boost from glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter that helps with learning and memory.

  ♦ Zinc boosts memory - plain and simple. There is actually quite a bit of zinc in the brain matter already, so double-check that your levels are low before using this supplement.

  ♦ Vitamin B-6 is useful for studying. There have been a lot of studies on brain function and the elderly showing B-6 to have a positive effect.

  ♦ Vitamin B-12 is good if you have a deficiency. When you do not get enough B-12, you experience “brain fog” that can make it hard to concentrate. So again, check with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement.

A quality multivitamin will help as well because it will balance any needs your body is experiencing that you are not getting through your typical diet.

We should also mention Ginkgo Biloba. There have been a lot of studies that confirm the effects of this supplement are the same for people who took the placebo. For that reason, we do not want to suggest it quite yet.

Three more are frequently used in combinations right before a test, including Caffeine + L-theanine, Bacopa monnieri, and L-tyrosine. We have not seen enough research as to whether or not these are effective yet, but we will update you if that changes.

The last thing to mention in the supplement world when preparing for your exams is essential oils. Using scents that leave you feeling calm and focused is an excellent way to trick the mind into activity. We like the smell of peppermint.

Remove Distractions to Improve Memory and Concentration

We wanted to touch base on a critical aspect for ITDs looking to qualify in Canada for their dentistry career, which is distractions.

Life is hectic, and it has become way too easy to let social media, streaming shows, and constant connectivity get in the way of achievement.

We are not downing those activities, more that if you want to succeed in your exams, you need the perspective of setting up a dedicated space where you can study distraction-free.

Here are some essential tips:

1 - Time & Date

Make studying a priority by designating a specific time and date you will study regularly.

This encourages your mind by prepping it with crucial triggers in the environment.

If your brain knows every morning from 7 am - 8:30 am will include studying, it will prepare itself for the task the same way it does for taking a shower, eating a sandwich, or any other activity.

2 - Silence Alerts

Go offline from any alerts during your study sessions. For example, turn your phone completely off and log out of any websites that may pop up when using your computer.

You could even create an email signature that alerts friends, co-workers, and family that you are unavailable during your study sessions.

3 - Focus on Small Sections

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was your dental career. Break big chunks of information into smaller pieces you can focus on 1 at a time.

4 - Background Noise

Many ITDs like to study in coffee shops or near a busy street window.

If you are going to have a noisy environment, use it to your advantage by recreating it in your space. Plenty of YouTube videos simulate comfortable background noise that actually relaxes the mind like rain, crowds, nature, and more.

We actually heard of an ITD that studies using the background noise of walking around Disney World as a way to stay calm.

5 - Keep Your Space Clean

No one is asking you to be a neat freak, but having your study space clean and organized increases the chance that you will continue to work there.

Anything that prevents you from studying, like having to tidy up, only creates a barrier to doing the work.

6 - Reward Yourself

We are all kids at heart, and having a fun reward for getting the work done feels good.

Hold off on watching the next episode in your binge-a-thon or going out with friends until after the studying has completed. You will feel better and get more satisfaction from your reward.

Stay Calm and Carry On

The greatest advice we can give for improving your memory and concentration is to strive to remain calm.

We understand the pressure you may feel because we have been there before.

That is why we created this website as a reference because we know what it is to have the weight of success holding you down. In many cultures that immigrate to Canada, there is also an added family pressure to be the best in your field that can escalate feelings of anxiety and stress.

All of the tips we suggested here work in collaboration with each other.

They do not require a complete life overhaul, just subtle changes that can be introduced one a time. The key is consistency and allowing yourself the freedom to succeed. We know you can do this!


Karen Nunez was born in Valenzuela, Philippines. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Centro Escolar University in Manila.

Karen currently is a practicing oral health care professional based in Alberta, Canada; and runs a Blog where she writes a slew of articles to empower internationally trained dentists to integrate into Canadian dentistry.

Read more of her blogs here.

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