Brain Training: A Leg Up For Standardized Test Takers?

brain trainingThe United States spends $1.7 billion on primary and secondary school testing per year. That’s more than the annual GDP of entire countries like Samoa and Antigua. How did that happen? “No Child Left Behind”, the Bush II administration’s valentine to American education, recently made annual standardized testing for reading and math mandatory from second through twelfth grade.

And the stakes are enormous. Schools must make public the annual report cards of their students’ testing results. Underperforming schools can face “corrective action” or “restructuring” from their respective state governments. The net result of NCLB has been off-the-charts stress for teachers, students and parents alike.

Americans only recently got adjusted to the outpouring of funds required for high school age kids taking college entrance standardized tests like SATs and ACTs. One article, entitled (without irony) “It’s OK to Spend $13,000 on College Prep” outlines in gruesome detail the costs of getting into a highly desirable university:

  • Private College Entrance Counselors – $300 per hour
  • $150 an hour for an SAT tutor
  • Up to $10,000 for college testing prep courses
  • Professionally written application essays: $100-400 a pop

Not coincidentally, prescriptions for “smart drugs” like Adderall or Ritalin – regularly abused by students to artificially boost their mental focus and cognitive acuity – have been flying off pharmacy shelves. According to IMS Health, sales of ADHD drugs from 2006 to 2010 jumped 83%. Many end users are high school and college students who do not suffer symptoms of ADHD, but rather are looking for a competitive edge in their test taking skills.

Amidst this new, disturbing reality of academic competitiveness and testing pressures, neurofeedback brain training software is gaining new credibility for its touted ability to boost brain performance and mental focus.  In late 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics put biofeedback on equal footing with medication (read: Ritalin) for its efficacy for treating ADHD. If medical professionals acknowledge the efficacy of neurofeedback for kids susceptible to lapses in mental focus, the is it a such a large leap to imagine EEG biofeedback being effective for students who are more neuro-typical?

Furthermore, neurofeedback has been approved by the FDA for stress reduction. A school environment – especially given the stakes of NCLB – is incredibly stressful during periods of standardized testing. Teachers are concerned about funding and that anxiety can get passed down to their students. And stressed-out children are less likely to perform to the utmost of their cognitive capabilities.

And speaking of stress, the costs of college prep for parents might be significantly reduced simply by supplementing their child’s good study habits with a neurofeedback training regimen. Neurofeedback sessions provided under the supervision of a professional trainer are competitive with the hourly cost of an SAT tutor. It’s even possible now to buy a home neurofeedback machine for a fraction of the $13,000 parents could expect to shell out for college prep course. Considering SAT prep courses on average only raise your child’s SAT score by 30 points or less, neurofeedback cognitive training programs could also be a much better value.

Then the question remains: will neurofeedback provide a new edge for students seeking an academic leg-up? Given the fact that neurofeedback is drug-free, naturopathic and science-based, it is harder to imagine why it would NOT become the new tool of choice for students looking to tune-up their standardized test scores.

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