UKrant tests: can pills help you study?

‘I just can't relax’

Many students take pills and supplements to improve focus. But what effect do these ‘boosters’ have on your body? Joas de Jong volunteered himself as a guinea pig and tested four of them.
By Joas de Jong / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

No one really knows how many students take Ritalin these days. We do know that in 2015, one in ten students were popping pills to improve their concentration. In 2017, the Institute for Responsible Use of Medication (IVM) reported that the number had jumped to one in four students. Judging by my own experiences as a student, I think it’s probably even higher than that.

For three years I studied the old-fashioned way, getting by on willpower and lots and lots of caffeine. But I kept hearing stories about students using pills as a study-aid – pills that are really only available through a prescription, though there are plenty of legal means to boost your focus. Braincaps have been around for a while, and even the people behind Stuvia – the online market place for buying and selling book summaries – developed their own little focus pill, StudyLess.

But do these pills actually work?

It’s the last exam week of the year, which means it’s the perfect time for an experiment. For a week, I tried studying with the help of Ritalin, Modafinil, Braincaps, and Study Buddy. Apart from the user information that comes with the pills, I read as little about them as possible in an effort to preclude the placebo effect. I also gave up coffee during the experiment.

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