Should You Drink Coffee Before a Test? Level Up Your Test Taking

should you drink coffee before taking a test

Coffee contains numerous chemical compounds. Caffeine is the most prominent, but some have benefits while others could prove detrimental in a test environment. So should you drink coffee before taking a test?

Yes, drinking a little coffee before a test can be beneficial to your performance. Caffeine improves cognitive function in humans. This sharpening of the mind could prove beneficial to test results.

However, there are some side effects to consider, especially before you take an important test.

Military Algorithm for Drinking Coffee

Mr. Ripley says, “Believe it!” The US Army has devised an algorithm designed to balance caffeine’s effects and side effects on troops. The algorithm shows how to time your cups of coffee at intervals to achieve optimal caffeine levels. 

The goal was to maintain maximum alertness while physically consuming the least amount of liquid at the fewest intervals. The benefits here limit the negative side effects that too much caffeine can have on the body. But, they also limit the number of bathroom trips. 

Sitting through a test without answering the call of nature is great. For troops on patrol, lapses in concentration and even using ‘the can’ could be life-threatening.

Researchers designed this algorithm for army soldiers at peak fitness. The soldiers are typically fighting fatigue from intense physical exertion and extended hours awake and alert. The likelihood is that your study routine is not quite as strenuous. So, bear that in mind and adjust your caffeine doses accordingly.

Top Tips for Test Day

Businessman drinking coffee

If you’re wondering what the answer is to “should you drink coffee before taking a test?” have no fear. Do you want to sharpen your mind before writing an exam but don’t have time to create a coffee study schedule? 

Drink a coffee (espresso to minimize fluid intake), then immediately have a 15-minute nap. Allow a minimum of 20 minutes from finishing your nap before starting the test. This allows that initial rush of Noradrenaline to pass. 

Use 10 minutes for some light exercise. Yoga is perfect. Use stretching to stimulate circulation and promote good breathing techniques to oxygenate the blood. Yoga energizes the body and mind and is possibly the best exercise before a test. 

Yoga not for you? Increasing your heart rate slightly with a short bicycle ride or walk will release some of that tension. Remember, this isn’t a work-out. You just want to increase your heart rate by 20-25bpm. 

Author Note: If you can, do this exercise near some trees or water. Or, just on a rooftop where you can see the horizon. These are great environments to help calm the nerves before a test.

Take a quick shower.  Just before you get out, make the water as hot as you can bear it for 5 seconds. Then, turn the water fully cold. Stay under for 10 seconds or just as long as you can. 

This hot and cold spell helps to stimulate blood flow to the skin’s surface and, consequentially, throughout the body. It is important to end with the cold as this closes the pores and contracts the skin.

If you are allowed to, take a sprig of fresh Rosemary into the test. Rub the leaves between your fingers intermittently to release that memory stimulating smell.

Why Does Coffee Wake You Up?

To better understand why the answer is yes to “should you drink coffee before taking a test?”, let’s talk about the science behind it. Caffeine causes the brain to release chemicals that affect us in several ways. But the main effect that most of us seek is coffee’s ability to stave off sleep.

Adenosine is an organic compound produced by the brain that tells us it is time to sleep. Levels of the chemical slowly rise throughout our wakeful period and fall again as soon as we fall asleep. Adenosine slows the firing of neurons, and as levels build during the day, our cognitive functions are impaired by sleepiness. 

Caffeine and adenosine adhere to the same neuron receptors in the brain, but caffeine doesn’t promote sleep as adenosine does. So, how does coffee work its magic? The answer is the caffeine occupying these neural receptors, which would otherwise be open to the drowsy effects of adenosine. 

How Long do the Effects of Coffee Last?

Approximately 20 minutes after a cup of coffee, you begin to feel the effects of the caffeine. This is when the brain begins to release stimulating hormones. A person can feel the effects of caffeine for 4 hours or more after ingestion. This is one reason to restrict your caffeine intake from the early afternoon onwards.

While our neural receptors are saturated with caffeine, adenosine cannot impact energy levels. However, the brain continues to produce this sleep trigger. Be warned, the adenosine won’t disappear until you sleep. When the caffeine eventually wears off, expect to be hit by a wave of tiredness.

Why is Caffeine a Stimulant?

Caffeine induces the brain to release the stimulant hormones Serotonin, Dopamine, and Noradrenaline. These stimulants help to soothe self-doubt, improve reaction times, and even sharpen your focus. 


Low serotonin is often a cause of depression. A healthy serotonin level helps stabilize your mood with a sense of well being and mental calm. All of which is perfect for a test. Serotonin is also linked to digestion and bone health.


Dopamine works in the pleasure center of the brain, rather than ‘doped up’ on pleasure. The effects of dopamine are more inspirational, focussing on targets that, once achieved, will bring us pleasure. 

Dopamine is a crucial ingredient in human civilization. It gives us the clarity to determine our goals and the forethought to chart the route to achieving them.


drinking coffee cappuccino

Another stimulant that the brain releases while under the influence of caffeine is Noradrenaline. Noradrenaline dilates the pupils, increases blood pressure and heart rate. But, it has other interesting effects too. 

Like on star trek when you hear, “Divert all available power to the aft deflectors!” Noradrenaline constricts the blood vessels in less essential organs. By diverting blood flow, it aids more important systems. 

On the flip side, Noradrenaline is responsible for the feelings of frustration and irritation that sometimes come from overindulgence in strong coffee.

Author Note: Noradrenaline is known as the ‘fight or flight’ chemical and is responsible for the initial burst of energy that coffee provides. It improves response times and aids in split-second decision making in a high-stress environment. 

If you find tests quite stressful the decision-making properties of Noradrenaline are not going to help. 

The fight or flight response is one of the most primitive mental states and shuts down higher cognitive function. The brain doesn’t want to ponder the philosophical ramifications of being eaten by that hungry tiger. It wants to survive! Just another reason it is so important to be relaxed and calm for a test.

Even someone challenging an idea or belief can cause the brain to release Noradrenaline. This is why it can be difficult to understand someone’s point of view. And, why you might not properly articulate your own opinion during an argument. 

Side Effects of Caffeine

Coffee has a number of undesirable side effects, least of all a mild to moderate heartburn. Sufferers of heart disease and high blood pressure should avoid drinking caffeine due to Noradrenaline’s effect on the circulatory system. 

Arrhythmia and heart palpitations, shakiness, headache, anxiety, insomnia, and dehydration are common symptoms of drinking too much coffee.

Caffeine not only inhibits the body’s ability to absorb and process calcium but can even leach calcium from the bones. This makes it particularly detrimental to people with brittle bones

Coffee also contains tannin and other chemicals that are recognized carcinogens. However, some of the other chemicals found in coffee are said to have anti-cancer properties too.

Coffee Filter Paper

Coffee filter papers absorb and retain some of the oils from filtered ground coffee. This is beneficial because some of these oils, such as tannin, could be harmful. 

Also included in these oils are those that give coffee its rich, dark aroma. Some of these show positive mental stimulation. Coffee brewed as part of a study schedule should be brewed using the espresso method. Or try it filtered with a plunger to reap the full benefit of the oils.

Most importantly, the oils contain most of the antioxidants found in coffee. These antioxidants combat the release of free radicals connected to aging.

Effects of Coffee on Memory

Some chemicals, such as those that give herbs a distinctive aroma, are recognized as beneficial to short-term memory. Aromatherapists recommend Rosemary to help the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

The olfactory sense is said to be most closely linked with memory. Studies show that the smell centers in the brain are in almost constant communication with memory processing. The olfactory bulb is connected to the hippocampus, while the thalamus, which deals with all other sensory input, is bypassed.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for creating memories and learning. It is also heavily connected to emotion. Of course, memory and emotion go hand in hand. Simply finding a subject interesting is forming an emotional connection to it. 

What are Coffee Naps?

It is widely agreed upon that caffeine can cause insomnia and negatively affect sleeping patterns. But, scientists have proven that a cup of joe before a quick nap can increase alertness. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but drinking a cup of coffee before a short sleep of 15 or 20 minutes is shown to provide a great energy boost. 

It takes about 20 minutes for the intestine to absorb the caffeine. Then, the blood can take it up to the brain. A quick sleep takes advantage of the delay between drinking and feeling the effects of the coffee. 

Early Sleep’s SWS (Slow Wave Sleep) pattern breaks down adenosines that build up in the period of wakefulness. A coffee nap gives you a “got out of bed on the right side” kick in the butt! This is inverse to the wave of tiredness that comes from the effects of the caffeine wearing off.

Top Tip: Don’t nap for more than 20-25 minutes. Sleeping for longer durations puts you into a deeper sleep pattern and causes’ sleep-inertia’. Sleep-inertia is the grogginess you feel in the morning that inspires the need for that first cup. So an extended snooze entirely defeats the purpose of the coffee nap. 

Building a Caffeine Tolerance

An adult son and senior father sitting on sofa indoors at home, drinking tea

Like any drug, with regular consumption, we build up a tolerance to caffeine. This usually results in increased dosages, developing into dependency, and finally, addiction. 

Are you a regular coffee drinker? Try to give up for a few days before implementing a coffee routine that suits your study schedule. 

Remember, you want to use coffee as a performance-enhancing substance. That means you need to treat it as such and stop using it recreationally. A break from your addiction will reduce your tolerance and increase the benefit of the effects. 


Coffee can be beneficial to drink before a test as it improves focus and maintains energy levels. But, this only works if you have done your research properly and find the right balance.

Too much caffeine, and you will struggle to keep your focus, feel agitated, restless, and irritated.  

Coffee contains a mild diuretic and can cause a need to visit the bathroom. Some studies show needing to use the restroom can aid in decision making, but that’s a topic for a different discussion!  We hope you enjoyed this article on should you drink coffee before a test.

Stay caffeinated friends!

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