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July 2020

Expand your Reading List to Expand your Mind

Lists are to students, what traffic is to drivers. Notoriously unavoidable and inevitable in day-to-day life. Back-to-school stationary lists, homework to-do lists, and shopping lists – The list of lists can go on and on. Despite their pedantic reputation, lists have been proven to be a powerful tool to increase productivity as they display all the items clearly, ensuring nothing is forgotten. However, there is one list in particular, that we are all familiar with: the traditional reading list.

Receiving an annual or termly reading list may not seem like a momentous moment, in that it is typical of academic institutions to enforce literary requirements. Specific books are integral to a year’s syllabus and curriculum, so it may often feel as though reading is a chore or another task to finish in an endless list. But now amid the summer months, I wanted to explore the various benefits of reading for pleasure – when one can go beyond just academic obligation. The rough definition of ‘reading for pleasure’ is as follows; freely choosing the reading or enthusiastically continuing reading after the respective material is assigned. The common factor is enthusiasm. When reading can be seen as a hobby rather than a chore, it can unlock a whole new deeper meaning behind the discipline itself. Reading promotes a sense of empathy, where the reader naturally aligns their emotions with that of the complex characters presented in the plot. Reading also has the power of metaphorical transportation; we can depart from our four walls, our situation, to different historical worlds of fantasy or mystery. In a research essay exploring the benefits of ‘pleasure reading’ on academic success, Whitten writes:

“Many educators encourage their students to read outside of the classroom in order to increase reading comprehension, vocabulary, general knowledge, and cultural awareness; however, research indicates that pleasure reading may have a greater influence on a child’s overall academic performance than their socio-economic background-” (pg. 48)

I find that one of the biggest advantages of pleasure reading is that the reader can determine their own pace, and there is no better setting for this than over the summer holidays. Schools, English tuition, private tuition, or other academic environments have to press time constraints in order to follow a schedule. Reading for fun calls for independence in time scheduling, pace, and location. With lockdown measures still in place, one can get creative in finding cosy reading spots around the house.


So, I urge students, parents, and everyone to try qualitative not quantitative reading, to explore new genres, work from modern authors, and classic texts. Below are links to more lists – ones that don’t have the usual time pressure – for you to read and enjoy this summer.

100 ‘Must Read’ Books for All Ages:


Must Read Books for 9-12-year-olds:


References: Whitten, C., Houston, S.J., & Labby, S.A. (2016). The impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success.

-Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Does Practise really make Perfect?

When one thinks of the action of practise, it is often synonymous with discipline and order. The fundamental idea of repetitive work is one that is championed by scholars and leaders. Why do we say, ‘practise makes perfect’? Is this a phrase applicable only to one discipline of study, like maths tuition, or is it a more general theory? The scientific impact of practise on the human brain is that the neural pathways work better in unison, by myelination. When we practise a skill over a set period of time, our brain thus becomes conditioned to feel comfortable with the skill – E.g. practising a speech over and over again will make one more confident with the skill of public speaking. It is almost subconscious when we become more attuned to the object of practise.


In the life of a student, practise is a certainly an integral pillar of success. Therefore, reserving the period before key exams for revision seems realistic and practical. Private tuition, (such as GCSE levels tuition or 11 plus prep) is a great mode of practise for students to get comfortable with examination conditions. Practise not only allows one to aim for the highest grade, but it also inspires a sense of confidence. If practise encourages personal confidence, it must also have a place in our daily life, whether it be in the extracurricular or academic sphere. The iconic phrase – practise makes perfect – is originated from its Latin form ‘Uses promptos facit’ referenced in the ‘Diary and Autobiography of John Adams’. Clearly, the philosophical and practical message is far from antiquated, and still essential for one’s personal success.


However, it must be said that sometimes practise has an innate tendency to feel monotonous. We gain personal satisfaction from seeing immediate results, whereas the ‘art’ of practise can feel like a long-haul endeavour. To achieve the desired results, one must stay diligent over a specific time-frame – this is tough, for boredom can strike, but with perseverance, practise will always achieve results. Will it achieve perfection? The idea of perfection is in itself ambiguous, but what is clear is that practise will make you better at what you are practising. To quote the resounding words of essayist Audre Lorde, “Every day of your lives is practise in becoming the person you want to be”.


-Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Why is food so important for your brain to function?


The human brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy. In fact, our brains use more energy than any other organ. Where does this energy come from? Food. Food is our brain’s “fuel” and what constitutes this “fuel” makes a significant difference not only to our cognitive function, but also to our overall health (Selhub, 2016).  A nutritious and balanced diet is pertinent in ensuring that our brain functions at its best. Therefore, by focussing our attention on the foods we eat, and maximising our nutrient intake, we are able support both our short-term and long-term brain function. Ultimately, the “fuel” we ingest impacts how our brains perform physically, emotionally and academically.


What foods should I eat?

There’s no magic formula which gives us the ‘ideal’ combination of foods to boost our brain function (Avery, 2020). Instead, one must focus on balance.

High-quality foods that should be incorporated into our diet include: fatty acids, antioxidants, and a range of vitamins and minerals. These all protect our brain from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the production of waste products known as ‘free radicals’ in our body. These waste products arise naturally when the body uses oxygen, and can damage our brain cells. Here are some examples of high-quality foods that are beneficial for our mind and bodies and why:


Green vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, broccoli) High in vitamin K, folate, lutein and beta-carotene.


These nutrients have shown to slow cognitive decline (Morris et al. 2016)

Fatty fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, cod) High in omega-3 fatty acids.


These fatty acids are essential to the formation of brain tissue and improve cognitive function (Bauer et al. 2014)

Berries Contains large amounts of flavonoids


Consuming flavonoids is associated with improved cognition (Miller et al, 2018) and improved memory (Avery, 2020)

Nuts High in omega-3 fatty acids (same reasons as above)
Turmeric Contains the active compound curcumin which has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits on the brain.


In animals, turmeric has shown to cause improved learning and memory (Khalid et al. 2017)


Low-quality foods on the other hand are often highly processed and refined. They tend have a low fibre content and are often digested quickly. Quick digestion means we experience fluctuations in our blood glucose levels which can be harmful to brain health, as well as affect our mood. Refined foods, specifically sugar, have also shown to promote inflammation and oxidative stress.


Impact of food on emotional and mental health

So far, we have mainly looked at the benefits of nutrition on cognition and it’s easy to forget the variety of other benefits a healthy and balanced diet provides us with. Of course, what we eat impacts our physical health. Studies have shown that there is also an association between food and our mental health and wellbeing (Mental Health Foundation, 2018). For example, a study by Parletta et al. (2017) showed that a Mediterranean-style diet (high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, fish etc.) was associated with reduced depression amongst participants. This was sustained for 6 months after the intervention. The significance of nutrition in childhood has also been widely studied. Poorer diets which predominantly constitute of poor-quality foods (e.g. with high levels of refined sugars, saturated fats etc.) are associated with experiences of poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

Nevertheless, the association between food and mental health is complex and indeed, nutritional psychiatry is a rapidly evolving field of research. The key thing to take away is that how we feel can impact how we behave, and therefore how we approach demanding tasks such as our academic work.



For the majority of us, there are probably quite a few dietary improvements we can think of which would be beneficial to our health. It’s important to recognise that it is never too late to amend our diets, or that of our children. Ultimately, the “You are what you eat” saying is highly relevant in nourishing our brains and small daily changes will amount to large improvements for the long-term!



Eva Selhub, 2016: Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.

Aspen Avery, 2020: How Nutrition Impacts the Brain and Mental Health

Morris et al, 2016: Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline

Bauer et al, 2014: Omega-3 Supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults

Miller et al, 2018 (Dietary Blueberry Improves Cognition Among Older Adults in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

Khalid et al. 2017: Pharmacological Effects of Turmeric on Learning, Memory and Expression of Muscarinic Receptor Genes (M1, M3 and M5) in Stress-induced Mouse Model

Mental Health Foundation, 2018: