Practicing meditation can increase GRE scores by preventing the mind from wandering, according to new research published in Psychological Science.

"Sages have long advocated the value of cultivating an ability to mindfully focus on the here and now, and converging scientific evidence has begun to corroborate this view," Michael D. Mrazek of the University of California at Santa Barbara and his colleagues wrote in their study.

The study of 48 undergraduate students, published online on March 28, found that practicing meditation resulted in 16 percentile-point increase in GRE scores on average. Students who had practiced meditation also reported less "mind wandering," meaning they were able to remain more focused while taking the test.

Half of the students attended a mindfulness class for 45 minutes four times a week for 2 weeks. The class required the students to focus their attention on a particular experience, such as the sensation of breathing, while they sat in an upright position with their legs crossed. The students were instructed how to distinguish "between naturally arising thoughts and elaborated thinking" and minimize "the distracting quality of past and future concerns by reframing them as mental projections occurring in the present," Mrazek and his colleagues explained.

The other students attended a nutrition class, where they learned about healthy eating.

Both before and after the two-weeks of classes, the students completed a verbal-reasoning section from the GRE along with a task designed to measure working memory. Those who attended the mindfulness classes saw greater improvements in their test scores than those who attended the nutrition class. The difference appears to have resulted from reduced mind wandering in the mindfulness group.

The standardized test is used to predict how students will perform in graduate school. Mrazek's research suggests that training underlying cognitive processes, such as attention, could help students prepare for the GRE, which is actually designed to be "uncoachable."

"[T]he present demonstration that mindfulness training improves cognitive function and minimizes mind wandering suggests that enhanced attentional focus may be key to unlocking skills that were, until recently, viewed as immutable," Mrazek and his colleagues concluded.

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[Meditating in lotus position via Shutterstock]